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A University Athlete like No Other

Summer Games 28 August 2015

LAUSANNE – On the occasion of the celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Universiade in Budapest, we take some time to look back at the career of Sándor Tarics, a water polo player who still is the pride of Hungary.


Sándor Tarics was born in Budapest (at that time part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire) on 23 September, 1913. He is currently the oldest living World University Sports Gold medallist (4 gold medals), and the oldest living Olympics Gold medallist.


Tarics began participating in school water polo competitions in Budapest when he was about 14 years old. In fact, at the beginning, he was considered to be really too small for the sport, he wasn’t strong and wasn’t a fast swimmer… but he demonstrated an incredible understanding of the game, together with a great fighting spirit. He even trained hard to make himself ambidextrous, using either the right arm or left arm to shoot at goal with strength, which is a huge advantage in water polo. Tarics, playing as a centre, was selected in the mighty Hungarian students team that won the gold medal in the 6th (Torino, 1933), the 7th (Budapest, 1935), the 8th (Paris 1937) CIE International University Summer Games, and the Students World Games (Vienna 1939). He was aged 23 when he won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics with the Hungarian national team.


At that time Tarics was a university student without much money to pay for his engineering studies. He tried to pawn his Olympics gold medal but the pawnbroker examined the alloy metal and said “It’s not gold.” (!)


During World War II, Hungary was an unwilling satellite of the German Reich, and turmoil brewed around its borders until the Soviet army invaded the country. Tarics was able to escape post-war Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1948, and his engineering degree earned him a teaching fellowship at an American university. In San Francisco (Cal), Tarics established himself as a professor and then as an architectural engineer. In the 1970s, he contributed to develop a revolutionary method of implementing seismic base isolation with rubberized shock absorbers under large buildings … the champion has become a leader, a specialist in redesigning buildings for earthquake safety!


Tarics eventually became a US citizen and settled in northern California, but he still remembers the time when he was a student-athlete. He loves to evoke the time of his sporting achievements, and ensures that the university sport medals are those that brought him the most happiness. “These were truly gold”, he proclaims, “the most real gold, coming from the heart of youth!” And he wants to deliver a message to the student-athletes competing at the Gwangju Universiade: “You have to have a dream, something you want to accomplish. And then you have to work at it very, very hard. Mainly, you have to have willpower, which outlasts many years of hard work and disappointments.”


And Sándor Tarics’ plan is to keep fit up to 103 years so he can see the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro!


Sándor Tarics was honoured with the FISU Award Jean Petitjean at the FISU Gala which took place in Gwangju, prior to the 28th Summer Universiade last July 2015. The Award was received by Dr. Mozes Szekely, Secretary-General of the Hungarian University Sport Federation and Head of Delegation of Hungary at the Gwangju Universiade.

Sandor Tarics during the Water Polo competition at the Olympic Games in London (2012)