The world of water polo has lost a legend of the game, with Hungary now mourning one of its greatest players of all-time following the announcement that Gabor Csapo, an iconic figure of the 1970’s and 80’s, has passed away at the age of 72.
Olympic champion in 1976, bronze medallist in 1980, World champion in 1973, runner-up in 1975, 1978 and 1982, European champion in 1974 and 1977, silver medallist in 1983 and a two-time Champions League winner with Vasas (1979, 1984) – just the brief summary of his achievements medals takes long lines.
Csapo, who played 272 times for the Hungarian national team, was a giant of the game in all aspects. His towering presence, his unmissable blond hair and ultimately his brilliant skills became synonymous with the Magyars’ golden team’s success story.
His first-ever appearance on the big stage in 1973 was a hit right-away: as a rookie, he scored three outstanding goals against the Soviet Union at the inaugural FINA World Championships – ultimately, that game decided the gold medal, it ended 5-4 so Csapo’s hattrick was a game and title-winning effort. This was also a sign which became trademark of his illustrious career: he never cracked under pressure.
The following thirteen years saw him emerging among the greatest icons of the game who had 272 caps between 1972 and 1986. As he later described that golden age, “we had a lot of genius in the team, a fantastic coach Dezso Gyarmati, but at the end of the day it was the physical superiority of the big three, Istvan Szivos, Tamas Farago any me, which made the real difference.”
In an era when Hungary was once more the ruler of the global scene, it was an even bigger feat that Csapo, together with Farago, led his club Vasas to nine championship titles back home in ten years between 1975 and 1984, and in 1979 and 1984 the team also won the highest prize, the Champions League (back then: European Champions Cup) trophy.
He spent his last two seasons in Italy, later became coach in Sicily, then he was in charge in Vasas for three seasons at the beginning of the 90s – including a championship final run – before he started using his university degree and worked as a legal counsel at several high-rated companies.
Parallel, he launched a water polo school with Tamas Farago where hundreds of youngsters learnt the basics of water polo, including Krisztian Manhercz, who is now one of the brightest stars of Hungary.
While Hungary and the water polo community mourns one of its greats, we may console ourselves with one of Gabor Csapo’s iconic quotes from the interviews he gave upon his 70thbirthday two years ago: “Don’t believe it if anyone says he has had a better life than me.”