News News from Hungary Sport news Leg­endary Water Polo Play­er and Coach Tibor Benedek Dies at Age 47

Leg­endary Water Polo Play­er and Coach Tibor Benedek Dies at Age 47

Leg­endary three-time Olympic cham­pi­on and water polo coach Tibor Benedek died today at the age of 47, the Hun­gar­i­an Water­po­lo Fed­er­a­tion said in a state­ment. Back in May, Benedek sud­den­ly announced that he would leave water polo behind. The icon­ic sports­man had not dis­closed any par­tic­u­lar rea­son, but explained his deci­sion was due to pri­vate matters. 

Tibor Benedek, who is con­sid­ered one of the best water polo play­ers ever and arguably the best left-hand­ed play­er ever, was part of the Hun­gar­i­an nation­al team, the Gold­en Team, that emerged as Olympic cham­pi­on three times in a row (in 2000, 2004, and 2008). This includes a Euro­pean and World Cham­pi­onship crown. In addi­tion, after hav­ing retired from play­ing, from 2013 he also coached the nation­al team and led it once again to clinch the World Cham­pi­onship title in his first year at charge.

2016, Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships (Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI)

He start­ed swim­ming as a child when he was tak­en to the pool on med­ical advice because he had a spinal her­nia at the age of eight, but he didn’t like swim­ming- water polo attract­ed him more. Lat­er, he made the junior team, then debuted in the adult team at the 1991 World Cup. At that tour­na­ment, at the age of 19, he won a World Cup bronze medal.

A year lat­er, he was already an Olympian and by 1996 he had become a lead­ing fig­ure of the team. He became Euro­pean Cham­pi­on with the nation­al team in Seville in 1997. Two years lat­er, he could not par­tic­i­pate in Flo­rence at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships due to a ban, but lat­er, he became a three-time Olympic cham­pi­on with the leg­endary Hun­gar­i­an team of the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Sum­mer Olympic Games. At the time of the 2004 title defense, he was already in charge as team cap­tain, but after that he tem­porar­i­ly resigned from the nation­al team due to a heart con­di­tion. He returned in 2007, a year before win­ning his third Olympic gold medal.

2017, Mil­len­ni­um – Pal­lan­uo­to Milano A.S. Dilett Mas­ters match in Budapest. (Balázs Czagány/MTI)

From 2013 until the 2016 Sum­mer Olympic Games in Rio, he was nation­al coach of the Hun­gar­i­an men’s water polo team.

Dénes Kemény, who was already pres­i­dent at the time, called it his best deci­sion to hand over con­trol to Benedek at the time, say­ing he also made a dif­fer­ence in the final, adding that to this day he remem­bers what the coach said: “I felt that there was a force hid­ing in them that was above all, lead­ing us to the point that we want­ed this suc­cess the most, which nev­er needs to be explained.”

2013, Barcelona, World Cham­pi­onships (pho­to: Anikó Kovács/MTI)

Benedek depart­ed after the dis­ap­point­ing results of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

In 2019, the water polo play­er, con­sid­ered the best left-hand­ed play­er in the world, described him­self in the fol­low­ing way:

I nev­er had a par­tic­u­lar­ly good ball sense, I nev­er played foot­ball or bas­ket­ball well, I didn’t throw par­tic­u­lar­ly long shots with the ball, and I throw even short­er today. I’m not par­tic­u­lar­ly strong or smart, I don’t swim too well, and my water lev­el is com­plete­ly average.

He con­tin­ued by describ­ing how he had suf­fered from ill­ness­es and was banned by doc­tors from the pool, but he kept on play­ing despite his heart con­di­tion and sev­er­al injuries. He said, if he had to sum up the rea­son for his suc­cess, he would say:

 I always want­ed it bet­ter. That’s my talent.

As a play­er, Tibor Benedek was a three-time Olympic cham­pi­on, World and Euro­pean cham­pi­on, he won two World Cup medals, one sil­ver and one bronze, two Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship sil­ver medals and three bronze. He won the World Cup once, and the World League twice. He is a six-time Hun­gar­i­an and six-time Ital­ian cham­pi­on. In 2000, he was vot­ed into the Hun­gar­i­an water polo team of the century.

pho­to: Tamás Kovács/MTI

As the fed­er­al cap­tain of the Hun­gar­i­an nation­al team, he won a World Cham­pi­onship gold in 2013, a sil­ver medal at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in Budapest in 2014, and a bronze medal at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in 2016. He was elect­ed Hun­gar­i­an water polo play­er of the year four times (1992, 1993, 1994, and 2002), entered the Hall of Fame of Swim­ming Sports, and received the Officer’s Cross, Mid­dle Cross, and Mid­dle Cross with a star of the Order of Mer­it of the Repub­lic of Hungary.

In his lat­est job, he was respon­si­ble for over­see­ing the UVSE’s water polo team.

In May, he announced com­plete­ly leav­ing the world of water polo, reveal­ing that the rea­son for his depar­ture was exclu­sive­ly personal.

“Over­all, I can say that both as a nation­al and youth coach, I got every­thing I could. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I couldn’t win every­thing, but I don’t want to appear insatiable.”

Accord­ing to UVSE pres­i­dent Péter Lovas, over the past three and a half years Benedek has giv­en “ines­timable val­ue” to UVSE, both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. He recalled that under his lead­er­ship, the club won 32 gold and 20 sil­ver medals in total, in addi­tion to a LEN Cup vic­to­ry. Benedek “rede­fined the con­cept of youth water polo and built a dream team that reached the top 8 in the strongest league in the world, most­ly with sec­ondary school students.”

pho­to: Anikó Kovács/MTI

In 2010, after eight years of liv­ing togeth­er, Tibor Benedek mar­ried mod­el Pan­ni Epres, moth­er of his chil­dren, Mór and Bar­ka. He also has anoth­er child, Genevre, from his first marriage.

Fea­tured pho­to: Balázs Czagány/MTI

Source: hun​gary​to​day​.hu / Kaszás Fanni