1956 Olympic bronze medalist György Tumpek died on December 21. He was 92-years old.
Tumpek won his only Olympic bronze medal in the 200 fly in 1956 – but that wasn’t even his best event. He broke the World Record in the 100 meter butterfly five times in the 1950s, and was recognized as the first-ever FINA World Record holder in that event once it was formally separated from breaststroke. He swam 1:03.4 in May 1957, which stood for less-than-a-month when Japan’s Takashi Ishimoto took it away.
Tumpek was also the 1954 European Champion in the 200 fly and won a silver medal as a member of Hungary’s men’s 400 medley relay at the 1958 European Championships.
Tumpek was the first-ever European Champion in the 200 fly and the first-ever Olympic bronze medalist in the event, kicking off a proud history for the country in that event. Every generation of Hungarian swimming has at least one great 200 butterflier, including the current World Record holder and Olympic Champion Kristof Milak.
The story of how Tumpek’s career began, as told by the Hungarian Swimming Federation:
At the end of the 1940s, a young man stopped in front of the famous trainer, Imre Sárosi. “I want to swim with you,” he said. Sárosi replied: “I am not willing to work with Csibész.” The young man, who was very well suited to this epithet, didn’t leave it at that: “Pay attention here, Sárosi! Try it for half a year!” After that, the master did everything to prove his point, but the young man also did everything to prevent the trainer from “winning.” This is how György Tumpek became the Hungarian champion in the 100-meter butterfly a year later, in 1950. Then, over the years, a total of eleven times. In Melbourne, he won a bronze medal in the 200-meter butterfly.
Tumpek said in an interview once that he regretted his approach to the 200 fly after a tactical error.
“I didn’t have much endurance, but I was fast. I had to pace myself in order to keep my strength to the end. I let them go and by the time I came to my senses at 150 they had a huge lead. I blasted at them from behind. If I can explode first, I’m not just a bronze medalist…”
While 27 is relatively-old for a swimmer to make their Olympic debut, in 1956 or today, he was left off the 1952 team as a medal contender – “because of his big mouth.” After a competitive tour of Moscow and Leningrad prior to the Helsinki Olympics, with laudation of the success of the Soviet team, he shouted “let’s not forget about the Hungarians, because we still won the majority of races.”
After retiring as an athlete, Tumpek went on to be a successful coach at the club Budapest Honved. That includes future national team captain and 1960 Olympian Laszlo Kiss. Tumpek was retired from coaching in 1977.
Only one American male won an Olympic gold medal in 1956, and that was the late butterflier Bill Yorzyk.
Fantasztikus úszó volt!
He was a fantastic swimmer!