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Szekely, Eva


SZEKELY, EVA (1927– ), Hungarian-born swimmer, member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. During her 19-year career (1940–58), Szekely set 10 world records, five Olympic records, and over 100 Hungarian national records while winning two Olympic medals, 10 World University Championships, and 68 Hungarian National Championships. At the age of nine, Szekely was inspired to become an Olympic swimmer after hearing the Hungarian national anthem being played in honor of swimmer Ferenc Csik's gold medal performance at the Berlin Olympics. Despite her intense patriotism, Szekely's career was halted by her Hungarian swimming team which, in 1941, ousted her as a "religious undesirable." During the Nazi invasion of Hungary, she found refuge in a Swiss-run safe house in a section of Budapest known as the International Ghetto, an area set up in July of 1944 via the intervention of Raoul *Wallenberg and Swiss consul Charles Lutz. As it was forbidden for Jews to use the public swimming pools in the protected ghetto, Szekely maintained her fitness by running up and down the staircase in her five-story building a hundred times a day. Szekely resumed her career after the war, and three years later she qualified for the first of her three Olympic appearances, the 1948 London Olympics. There, she competed in the 200m breaststroke, the 100m freestyle, and the 400m freestyle, finishing fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. In May 1951, Szekely set a world record of 1:16.9 in a race which would not become an Olympic event until 1968, the 100m breaststroke. At the Helsinki Games in 1952, Szekely won a gold medal in the 200m breaststroke in a record time of 2:51.7, and also finished sixth in the 400m freestyle. In 1956, Szekely and her husband, superstar waterpoloist Dezso Gyarmati, left for the Summer Olympics in Australia the day before the Hungarian Revolution against Communist rule, on October 23. Szekely would later write in her memoirs that "we had no word of our two-year-old daughter, or my parents. I didn't get any real sleep for a week before I was due to race, and lost over 12 pounds." Despite the adversity, Szekely won a silver medal in her specialty, the 200m breaststroke, and even improved a notch in the 400m freestyle, to fifth place. After her retirement, Szekely went on to become a successful swimming coach, helping guide her daughter, Andrea Gyarmati, to a silver and bronze medal at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

[Robert B. Klein (2nd ed.)]

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