LONDON, England ● If you think the Olympic spirit is nonsense, talk to Sandor Tarics, who won gold in Nazi Germany nearly eight decades ago and, at 98, is the oldest surviving Olympic champion.
“What I have done in my life was tremendously affected by the Olympic experience,” said Tarics, a former Hungarian water polo player who was 23 when his team travelled to Germany and beat the host nation in 1936. In London for the 2012 Games, he was a guest of the Hungarian Olympic Committee.
He remembered a match in Berlin against Malta in which a Maltese player was injured and had to be rescued from the bottom of the pool by his Hungarian opponents. That left the Maltese side one man down.
The Hungarian coach told one of the Hungarian players to leave the water as well, to even up the numbers.
“The German crowds when they saw that gesture, in the spirit of fair play, there was applause and recognition by the crowd,” he recalled.
“It was more pleasant, and more loud than we got when we won the Olympic gold medal. It was very nice.”
Tarics left Communist-ruled Hungary soon after the end of the Second World War and forged a new life in California as an engineer.
What has he learned?
“In life you always should have a fantasy, a dream, a direction which you want to go,” he said. “If you don’t have that then you are like a boat without a rudder, and wind takes you anywhere it wants to go, not where you want to go.
“So you should have a dream, and then pursue that dream and follow that dream, then everything will be alright. And if you don’t succeed, change the dream. Don’t let circumstances beat you, because if you give up an effort, you beat yourself.”
He takes great pride in supporting both Hungarian and U.S. athletes, and insists nationalism has no role in sport.
“Politics has nothing to do with sports, it doesn’t mix, it’s like oil and water, it cannot mix.
“The Olympic spirit is rooted in human nature, it’s our nature that we want to excel, and do what we are doing better and better, and that is human nature, it cannot be killed, and that’s what keeps the Olympics going,” he said.