Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer, Daniel Gyurta: a Great Hungarian, a Great Human Being

by Dr. David Mandler

It is natural for every nation to focus on the Olympians hailing from its own ranks or those who are culturally close to it. Thus, when Daniel Gyurta won the 200-meter breaststroke race on Wednesday, it was not a great surprise that the way the Huffington Post reported on the event was as follows: “Britain won silver in the 200m breaststroke final on Wednesday night, completing a stellar fifth day for the Great Britain team. Scot Michael Jamieson placed second in the final, beaten by inches by Hungarian swimmer Daniel Gyurta, who set a new world record.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/08/01/london-2012-michael-jamieson-silver-olympics-swimming-breaststroke_n_1729916.html)

That is certainly one way to report the results of a race.

Naturally, in Hungary, the 23-year-old Gyurta’s victory energized and unified the population of a deeply-divided country. At least, so it seemed in the first moments of euphoria. Since then, even this event has managed to inspire columns maligning Gyurta and counter-columns defending him. The issue at hand is, once more, what it means to be Hungarian and how self-consciously Hungarian Mr. Gyurta intends to be.


Today, we have learned that Mr. Gyurta has decided to send to the family of Norwegian swimmer, Alexander Oen Dale who died of a heart attack at the age of 27 on April 30th, a replica of the gold metal, touching the hearts of many Norwegians. The title a popular online paper gave its article on this says it all, “The Entire Country of Norway Honors Daniel Gyurta”(http://sportgeza.hu/2012/london/cikkek/gyurta_daniel_elott_tiszteleg_egesz_norvegia/).

Finally some good news coming from London about Hungary.

Daniel Gyurta, with this gesture, has given another reason for Hungarians to feel proud of this particular athlete. Sending the replica of the gold medal he won at the Olympics to the family of his greatest former rival has elevated Gyurta from the status of being a great athlete to that of a great human being.

Compassion, friendship, and empathy are but three universally human characteristics. Gyurta cultivated strong ties of friendship with Dale Oen. At his death, Gyurta reportedly expressed shock and great sadness. Four months later, sharing the gold medal, as it were, with the family of his fallen rival is the greatest embodiment of compassion and empathy Gyurta could have shown at a time when most people in his position would have been overwhelmed with the sensation of success and the expressions of love and admiration. Gyurta could have celebrated his own well-deserved victory with no other thoughts. There is no doubt that he was celebrating. But even in the moment of his greatest triumph, Daniel Gyurta did not forget about the man who possibly could have taken the gold away from him, Alexander Oen Dale.

The moment an individual from any nation transcends the boundaries of nationality (not to mention other social constructions) and honors people without regard to their nationality, he or she becomes a great representative of his or her own nation.

If only by that definition, Daniel Gyurta is a great Hungarian.