September 20, 1962 Budapest
In the midst of bloody revolution and foreign occupation Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; single handedly forged himself into the greatest weightlifter in the world, defeating the legendary Tommy Kono of the U.S.A. to become the first Hungarian Weightlifting World Champion. His infectious will and revolutionary training methods would transform the previously unknown nation of Hungary into one of the most powerful weightlifting forces on earth.
In 1963 he stunned the weightlifting world again in Stockholm where he added almost 20kg to his previous year's total, to win so convincingly that he almost beat the winner of the weight division above his own. Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; was poised to become the greatest champion in the history of the sport. Yet, despite dominating the world records in his division for the following ten years, his career failed to live up to the early promises. The first victories on the platform set into motion greater struggles off stage, which would rob him of his destined place in history. The weights could not defeat him. Only human pettiness and opportunism could do that.
The young Veres Győző. My father.
13th June, 1936 One couldn't choose to be born into a more turbulent time in central Europe. One World War still in the memory, another just three years away. Hungary was in a cyclic state of crisis following defeat in the First World War which ended in 1918. The turmoil after the war enabled a Soviet backed Bolshevik regime to briefly establish the "Hungarian Soviet Republic" in 1919, also known as the Hungarian "Red Terror". The Communists wanted to destroy all national monuments and articles of historical significance to the Hungarian people, and for a period covered the magnificent monuments in Hero's square in red cloth. Their time in power was a brief but significant 133 days. The allies became fearful of the Communist influence reaching so far into the west of Europe and punished Hungary in the 1920 treaty of Trianon signed at Versailles. The treaty removed two thirds of her lands, awarding them to surrounding nations. One third of Hungary's citizens suddenly found themselves living in a foreign land. Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; was born into this turmoil, but had a comparatively lucky start in life because his father was a prosperous butcher in his village who owned a little farm and the biggest house right in the centre of the village.
The birth home as it stands today.
1939 - 1945 After the outbreak of World War II, Hungary, under the guidance of Regent Horthy made desperate attempts to maintain her independence from Germany on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. Up until 1944, the fifth year of the war, Hungary avoided occupation by the Germans. In 1941 several Hungarian cities were bombed by the Soviet air force, which forced Horthy to declare war on the Soviet Union. During 1941 and 1942, two hundred thousand Hungarian troops fought the Soviets on the Eastern Front, and in 1943 they suffered heavy losses which decimated the entire force. On March 18, 1944 Hitler invited Horthy out of the country, and the following day Germany invaded Hungary. It was only after this deceitful ploy that the Nazi government took control of Hungarian affairs, and began the deportation of Jews and other persecuted groups. On August 27, 1944 Soviet troops crossed the Hungarian border. The country became the theater of war in the clash between two Super Powers. Horthy's struggles to keep Hungary from the Nazis continued after the German occupation, and he tried to prevent the deportation of any Hungarian citizen by the Nazis. He signed an armistice with the Soviet Union on October 15, 1944. The Germans, fearful of losing Hungary to the Soviets, kidnapped Horthy's son to force him to abandon the armistice, and once again place a Nazi government in control of Hungary. The Red Army finally entered Budapest which, after a lengthy battle, unconditionally surrendered on February 13, 1945.
When the Red Army pushed forward, they randomly arrested young men in Hungary as war criminals. Győző's teenage brother caught their eye and they dragged him to a prison camp. My father always remembered him as his stronger older brother. He was a young civilian, a teenager, taken for no reason other than being a Hungarian walking in the countryside. The Russian concentration camps, the Gulags, were as ruthless as anyone's. But the people who perished there were not destined for the benefits of the world's outrage. They died quiet, unremembered deaths. Győző's brother disappeared into the horrible abyss of human evil without so much as a whimper.
Leading to 1956 Even though Soviet troops remained on Hungarian soil after the end of the war, there was an attempt to return to normalcy with the holding of elections. Against the hopes of the Soviets, the Hungarian Communist Party only received around 17% of the votes and power went to a Hungarian Peasant's Party. The Hungarian people wanted self rule but the Soviets could not tolerate this, so they installed their Communist henchman Mรกtyรกs Rรกkosi as deputy Prime Minister. With the help of the newly established secret police, the AVO (later renamed AVH), Rรกkosi systematically and ruthlessly eliminated his opposition and eventually assumed absolute control of Hungary. His regime tortured and murdered thousands of Hungarians. The headquarters of the AVH is now a museum, with the deserved name "House of Terror". Those were dark days for Hungary. Priests and academics would disappear without a trace. Anyone with moral or intellectual authority was a potential threat to the regime, and there was a shadow army of spies listening, betraying any individual who spoke with discontent. Everyone in Hungary feared for their lives. They were ready to seize any opportunity to escape the brutal totalitarianism of those days. Rรกkosi's era as dictator came to an end with the death of his even more ruthless supporter, Joseph Stalin in 1953. Exploiting the political turmoil in Moscow, Hungarian leaders made a desperate attempt at liberalization and escape Soviet rule. They tried to reduce some of the power of the secret police, released political prisoners, and dismantled forced labor camps. But the Soviets were not going to leave so easily.
On October 23, 1956 a student demonstration took place in Budapest. They marched on the American embassy with 16 demands that they wanted to submit to the United Nations, pleading for International help. I spoke with someone who witnessed that demonstration, and he recalls how the Americans, after months of inciting revolt, shuttered their embassy and turned the students and their demands away. The students then marched to Parliament Square where more and more people joined them. He recalls the enormous crowd, which seemed to him like a million or more, squashed together as far as the eye could see. He also recalls how the secret police started firing on the unarmed crowd, the bodies piling up as they tried to escape into the ditch that was being dug for the new Budapest metro. The Hungarian people tried to organize some resistance in the ensuing weeks, but on November 4 Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary and crushed the revolution. They installed Jรกnos Kรกdรกr as leader, who then led an attack against the revolutionaries. 21,600 mavericks (democrats, liberals, reformist Communists alike) were imprisoned, 13,000 interned, and 400 killed. The Soviet occupation lasted over thirty years.
The young Veres, 1954 - 1956 In the midst of all this turmoil and brutality, somewhere in the countryside, a new Hungarian hero was quietly preparing to take on the world. He and some friends fashioned makeshift weights from old tank wheels and axles that were scattered in the fields. Győző's strength and determination made him stand out immediately as he trained in the countryside. But even in this relative peace his life would soon be transformed by the occupation. The puppet government installed by the Russians confiscated his father's home, because it was perfect as the town's police station. Győző's father died soon after, in mysterious circumstances. He was the kind of generous man that gave away his produce to those who could not afford to pay, and the new authorities were always suspicious of him. There was only room for one kind of communism in Hungary now. After his father's untimely death, Győző left school to find work in order to support his mother, and to pursue his interest in weightlifting. These were difficult times, because weightlifting was a relatively unknown sport. Hungary had no previous international successes, and the sport received very little money from the government, if indeed we could say there was a government. He worked difficult jobs as a young man, and kept his weightlifting going on the side. But his talent was irrepressible. He was befriended by an elderly weightlifting coach, Székely Laszlo, the only man who ever influenced Győző's training philosophy. In 1954 he won the junior title, and in 1957 he joined the Csepel weightlifting club, which was the strongest club in the country.
The heart of a lion. Soon after his initial successes, Győző declared that he was going to follow his own training methods, which had the unfortunate consequence that he was soon closed out of the club! Győző's reply came a few months later when he defeated a much better known lifter to win the national title.
1956. "Strength, Muscle" Weightlifting before Veres Győző
This article may have been the first time Gyozo was mentioned in "Illustrated Sports", Hungary's premier sports newspaper. He would appear many times in the years to come. The article laments the remarkably poor public turnout at the national sports center for a clash between the Hungarian and Austrian teams. The truth is, there was not a lot to be excited about when it came to Hungarian weightlifting in those days. Except for one thing, "The Young Veres". The highlighted section talks about Győző Veres, in his first competition to represent Hungary in an international event. His toughness and fighting ability made him stand out. In italics, the reporter concludes "this young lad is our weightlifting sport's true promise". The reporter was not wrong. Six years later they would report from the same stadium, packed beyond capacity, as Veres Győző made sporting history.
1957 - 1959
It was in the space of these few years that Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; devoted his young years to become the best lifter in the world. As Cserhalmi reports in a 1970 article in Hungary's national newspaper, it was in 1957 that the young Veres started his pioneering work to single handedly transform Hungarian weightlifting from ... nothing ... into one of the dominant forces in world weightlifting. "It would not be quite right to say that Veres invented a new training method," Cserhalmi writes, "because before him there WAS no method. Not in Hungary at least. He didn't simply train and lift more than anyone; he trained and lifted differently. He invented a scientific method of training that paid attention to biological factors, to the dynamics of the muscle groups, and the general functioning of the human body. He invented novel new strengthening exercises and programs to maximize the utility of the work." "But personal success was never his only motivation", continues Cserhalmi. "No one can deny that in his entire sporting life he felt personal responsibility for the sport as a whole, and that he exercised this responsibility with complete honesty and an unselfish motivation." Indeed, Veres inspired his fellow lifters from the very beginning, and pushed them to achieve results they would never have dared to dream.
In 1959 the world first saw a glimpse of what was to come. Győző won the bronze medal at the European championships and his life long friend and training partner Földi Imre won a bronze at the World Championships.
1960 Olympic History
Rome. Games of the XVII Olympiad. The Hungarians break onto the world stage. Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; wins the first ever Olympic medal for Hungary in Weightlifting. He returns home a national hero.
GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; recalls these early days in "The Sporting Revolution", a 1986 book written by the Australian weightlifter, Nigel Martin: "I did not have a coach who set me a programme when I began weightlifting. Rather, he simply encouraged me and respected my efforts, whatever they were. He was a man for whom I had great respect. Always the amount of work and the type of work was left to me. Therefore, from the beginning I had to think for myself and I made many mistakes. Of course, I was very enthusiastic and determined to be a successful athlete. This of itself created its own problems, because my desire outstripped my body's ability to recover properly from the work I set myself. I had plenty of time to train and therefore always tended to do too much. For many of the years leading up to the 1960 Rome Olympics I trained up to seven hours a day. The Hungarian team arrived in Rome and a week before my competition I performed my last heavy training session. I either broke world records in training, or lifted slightly less than the records, for two repetitions. My opponents were shocked. I can still remember their faces turned pale and sad when they saw me perform these lifts. On the day of the competition, however, it was a different story. I felt so tired and weak that I was the one who got the shock. I lifted well below my best and managed only to finish third."
I had overtrained so much that I became very ill. I was put into hospital suffering from fever, vomiting and violent cramps. I had destroyed my body, temporarily at least. In fact this was the third time I had put myself into hospital from overtraining, and as I lay there in bed, I can remember feeling very depressed. My courage and desire to win were very strong, and my training showed that I was indeed the strongest man in the world at that body weight. It was then that I began to realise that my attitude to training was wrong. In total, the training I had done had not improved my body but destroyed it."
This medal tally from the 1960 Olympics (from Wikipedia) shows just how dominant the Soviets were in those days. The Americans were also very successful, though already on the decline.
1961 On the front cover now
"Two world records in thirty minutes". There was no rest after the historic success of 1960. Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; was not content with making history just once. Returning to form after the lessons learned in Rome he was breaking world records now, preparing to step up to the very top of the podium.
Győző won a silver medal at the World Championships in Vienna, 1961. His was one of three Hungarian silvers at that meet, and Hungary achieved an incredible 4th place in the team competition. There was even a little time left over for personal affairs. Veres Győző married Terézia, who would be at his side, through good times and bad, until the very end.
The public and media reaction to Hungary's good performance at the Olympics and then at the world championships was overwhelming. This excerpt from an article appearing in "Illustrated Sports" leaves no doubt about who was responsible for the strength of the new team.
"We Hungarians can count our fifth place standing at the Olympics as a great success. This unexpected success has given our competitors confidence, and has inspired such a positive atmosphere generally, giving this magnificent sport an unprecedented boost. The results did not of course grow by themselves. The competitors faced many difficulties, and fought many obstacles. Arguments ensued with the coaches, the federation leadership, and the preparation was not a clear or easy process. Fortunately, in Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018;'s person was found such an outstanding individual among the competitors who, not only with his personal results (3rd place winner), but enthusiasm and genuine human qualities, emerged as the leader of his fellow competitors. Veres - who is already a world famous weightlifter - drew his partners to him with his powerful personality, and started them toward loftier goals, above all imagining."
The sad truth reported by this article was that the success of the weightlifters was accompanied by the inevitable power struggles within the political machinery. Veres Győző challenged mediocrity, and found himself at odds with just about everyone in the political leadership of the sport. The main problem was that Győző was a brilliant man as well as a great athlete. He did not, as the cliché holds, suffer fools gladly. He read voraciously, with his main interests being history, poetry and philosophy. During his weightlifting career he built a library of 2500 mostly leather bound volumes. He loved books, and I remember he once chastised me when I put a mark in a book as a young child. Győző found himself in the midst of struggles that ensue when the new replaces the old, or as he liked to say "when something replaces nothing". Hungary was an insignificant weightlifting nation before Győző turned it into one of the most powerful ones, and he hated the idea that people who knew nothing of his sport were taking control. Officially he shared the role as coach of the national team, which suited him at the time because the job of writing training programs for himself and the team would have been quite tiring. He taught his training philosophy to the other coach, who then became responsible for the jobs that involved such drudgery. My mother warned him against this. She felt it was a mistake to give away his hard earned knowledge. She was right, and very soon a power struggle broke out between the coaches which ended with my father resigning his official position, even though he remained the driving force in Hungarian weightlifting for years to come.
An athlete and an intellectual. A brilliant man and an idealist, GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; believed in talent and hard, yet intelligent work. He was well spoken and courteous by nature, with a strong belief that it was the job of the strong to protect the weak. He was also uncompromising. He did not make deals, and he did not play "the game". But his biggest flaw was to tell the truth. Always, the truth.
1962 The First Hungarian Weightlifting World Champion
Two gold medals awarded to Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; in Budapest, 1962. European champion, and for the first time in history, a Hungarian World Champion.
The First! (Az első!) The legendary Tommy Kono of the U.S. looks up from second place. It is an unusual experience for him. Tommy Kono was voted the greatest lifter of all time in a popular 1982 poll conducted under the auspices of the International Weightlifting Federation. In 1962 Veres Győző beat him by 5kg. The following year he bettered that with almost 20kg. This is where Kono passed the baton, in the heart of a vanquished nation.
The Proud Hungarian I can't even imagine what it must have felt like, to rise from complete obscurity in a little nation crushed by super powers, to conquer the world in the mightiest of all sports. His countrymen, languishing from the defeat of two world wars and the soul destroying Soviet occupation worshipped him as a hero. Veres Győző lead Hungary into second place in the team competition behind the Soviet Union. Tommy Kono was a great champion of the United States, and he came to Budapest to take the title he thought was his. But it was not to be. Not in 1962. Standing above the whole world this year, in first place, was Veres Győző of Hungary.
Carbing up on chocolate biscuits. Before the age of sports drinks and vitamin water!
The epic battle between Kono and Veres. Showing the press and clean & jerk. (Courtesy Frank Rothwell's YouTube channel. Embedded videos can only be viewed in the ebook version available from iBooks).
A happy year
The family grows. GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; junior and Teresa at home. The World Champion was bor n in September, his son in October.
The real "Magnificent Seven". 'Probably the greatest strides in strength development in post-war years were made by the Hungarians. From being a nation of non-entities in the weightlifting world, they suddenly became prominent and in a couple of years produced greats like Toth, Veres, Fรถldi, Nemessรกnyi, Ecser, Nagy, Huska -- I could go on and on. These men had two things in common: they had tremendous strength, and they became champions in spite of their technique rather than because of it.' (From David Webster, 'Preparing for Competition Weightlifting')
1963 Conquering Scandinavia
The glory days continued in '63 with a second gold for Győző at the world championships in Stockholm. His was a remarkable victory, because his total lift was only 2.5 kg short of the winning total for the person who won the following, heavier weight division. Typically there is about a 30 kg. difference between the successive weight divisions, but with his incredible result Veres Győző would have collected silver even in the heavier weight division. It was this kind of super human achievement which lead Jim de Coste, an American weightlifting historian to conclude that: "Veres was for several years pound for pound the greatest lifter in the world."
"This is how the dreams turned out in Stockholm."
The Hungarian team achieved a miraculous result in Stockholm. Every weightlifter wearing the red, white and green went home with a medal, in either the World or European section. Eight Hungarian weightlifters stood on the podium during the course of the championships, Veres as World and European Champion. The other gold medalist in the European championships was Földi, who would go on to become the most decorated Hungarian lifter of all time. It was Győző who took them there: his methods, his will, his genius.
"The Year's Best"
December 23, 1963. A Hungarian newspaper honours Veres Győző in a Christmas honour list. They recall the words of a Swedish newspaper who claimed him as one of their own: "... such is this well presented Hungarian boy, that he could well be a managertrainer arrived from central Sweden for a congress .."
"This Christmas Veres is happy, for the year has brought every success a sportsman could wish for. Nay, more, every success that Veres Győző could wish for. For he does not always wish for the same things that other athletes wish for. His way of thinking, his attitudes and his ethics are a stark contrast to anything we have grown accustomed to."
"THE LIVING CRANE"
"I am a peasant boy. My father died in my second year of high school. I had to quit school to support my family. I did not land on the sunny side of life, lacking much and often going hungry. Perhaps it was in these hard times that my will was hardened, which later gave me the strength to fight for the acceptance of my vision, my training methods. It was at times a bitter fight, but it was worth it .."
Veres Győző did not seem like a peasant boy to the Swedish press who celebrated the new wonder of the weightlifting world for his intelligent and polite demeanour as much as his phenomenal strength. Jim de Costa, again writes: "But it was in 1963 that he truly became a legend. In that world championships he broke the world record total by, I believe, some 12.5 to 15 kgs. If this wasn't a first, it was very unusual. During this time in weightlifting Győző Veres' name was spoken with awe." But even that was not enough for Veres. This article from Aftonbladet, Sweden's most widely read newspaper, celebrates his phenomenal lift. But Győző was more focused on his vision for the future. "Already my result would have been more last night if I wasn't so nervous for my first lift" he says, "but now I am looking forward to a 500 kg. total. Certainly by the Olympics next year, if not sooner."
And still time for his young son, GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; junior.
Veres Győző with his favorite young protege, Nemessányi Árpád pose in front of a weight with the inscription "no ceiling". My father had it painted because people kept asking him about the limits of human potential. Every prediction they made, he would break. He did not believe in a limit, so he made his point the best he knew how. With a barbell! Nemessányi was still a junior, but an incredible talent. This article in the "Illustrated Sports" magazine is about the great expectations Veres Győző had for this young man. The young man lifting his two team mates seated on a bench! The article talks about the incredible successes of the team which came from obscurity just a few years earlier, to become a band of world record breaking hun warriors! They were celebrities now. There was no limit to what Veres Győző could achieve.
In 1963, he was on his way to becoming one of the most legendary figures in the history of world weightlifting.
1964 Tragedy, and then some
Following his phenomenal successes, Győző was the toast of the Weightlifting world. In spite of the travel restrictions from behind the Iron Curtain he was invited to London as a lifter and coach, and plans were being made for the trip. But in 1964 everything changed. In early '64, Győző's mother died, which had a devastating effect on him. They had a very close relationship in part, I suppose, because of his father's untimely death. He was deeply upset, and cancelled his plans for London. Terézia urged him to ease off his lifting for a while. He did not listen of course, and distracted by his immense grief, he badly injured his elbow at a competition just before the 1964 Olympic games. Even though he was carrying an injury at the Olympics in Tokyo, Veres Győző was not easily defeated. Following the snatch and press, his first attempt at the clean and jerk was already enough to give him a medal. In fact, the weight he lifted was the same as the fellow Hungarian who would eventually get the silver. But not satisfied with anything less than gold, he used his remaining two lifts to go for the first place result. Twice he cleaned the weight, and twice his injured elbow could not support it overhead. He lost the gold on these attempts, and he lost the silver because he weighed a few grams more than the silver medalist, who lifted the exact same weight. The world record holder, the odds on favorite went home with bronze.
Unfortunately home was getting to be a less than friendly place. Győző continued having bitter arguments with the leadership, who were using Hungary's new success to further their political ambitions. The Soviet Union were the dominant force in weightlifting at the time, and Hungary's new success made them politically important. Being in second position, Hungary together with the Soviets could dominate the weightlifting world. This was not lost to the communist leadership, who realized they could boost their own careers and alliances with Moscow. They started bringing in Soviet coaches to bolster their position of comradery. Veres Győző wanted none of this. He was beating the Soviets! He was a fiercely nationalistic young man, and he despised the Soviet occupation and he despised even more the people who were selling him and his nation out. In 1962 and 1963 Veres Győző was untouchable even in Communist Hungary, where people could easily disappear if they stood against the authorities. I heard a remarkable story from one of his oldest friends, that he once went back to his native village Berekböszörmény where the Communists had turned his family home into a police station, and in the middle of the night he took an axe and beat down the front door of the police station. Such was his fame and awe inspiring reputation at the time, the police did not interfere. But in 1964, Veres lost, and he became a mere mortal. His career as a weightlifter was immediately placed in doubt, and his training methods questioned. From this time on he would have to fight each day to prove himself and to retain his place in the Hungarian team.
1965 and 1966 The Heart of Darkness In 1965 the powers that be had their chance at striking the weakened gladiator, which they did through his best friend and junior world record holder, Nemessány. The selectors decided that Nemessány was not fit to compete in the World Championships in Teheran that year. Veres became enraged because he knew this was a fabrication. The story was, as I understand, that the selectors told Nemessány to lift three repetitions on the best weight he could in the snatch exercise. Then they decided this weight was not enough to qualify him. This is like asking a sprinter to run three successive runs, and then deciding that his last time was too slow! Veres Győző confronted the selectors and said to them that if they did not take Nemessány, then he would not go either. They did not take Nemessányi, and Győző stood by his friend and forfeited his place in the team, thereby losing a certain gold medal. I do not know too many people who would do such a thing for a friend. Of course his act of foolish nobility handed his enemies a golden opportunity to publicly humiliate him, because they made it appear that Veres Győző refused to go. They spread rumors that he was finished as a lifter, that he was afraid to return after the ’64 failure. His future on the Hungarian team was no longer assured. Taking up the fight to show that he was not finished as a lifter he organized a small competition at home to coincide with the world championships, and he easily beat the winning result at Teheran.
190 KG, world record clean and jerk in Berlin, 1966
The following year at the 1966 world championships in East Berlin, the Hungarian leadership did not take any chances that the world would see a glorious Veres comeback.
"Veres Győző also deserves a gold!"
The dramatic headline is a quotation from C.H.Johnsson, then President of the International Weightlifting Federation, who was so overwhelmed by the battle between Veres Győző and the final victor, the Soviet Beljajev, that he stated: "If I could somehow manage it, if the rules allowed, I would award Veres Győző the gold medal too!" This is how the competition played itself out in 1966. The first exercise is the press, and here Beljajev finished his attempts at 147.5 kg. Veres was a much stronger lifter in this exercise and started succesffuly on 150 kg. which he then followed with an equally good 157.5 kg. to give him a 10 kg. lead. But he still had one lift remaining, so he took a world record 162.5 kg. which he pressed as well as either of the other two lifts. Yet, the judges failed the lift with a two-toone majority, depriving Veres of a psychologically devastating 15 kg. lead over his opponent. Veres was weaker in the snatch exercise and Beljajev was able to equalize the 10 kg. lead that Veres had. The final battle came in the clean and jerk where the two competitors went neck and neck. In his final lift Veres broke the world record to hoist 190 kg. over his head, giving him the lead over his competitor, who had one lift remaining. Beljajev also took 190, and miraculously held it overhead. This gave them the exact same total weight lifted. However, Beljajev was 1.1 kg. lighter than Veres and by International rules, the lighter man shall win the gold. Thus Veres Győző had to settle for the silver medal. But such was the character of the battle, and such was the sheer heroism of Veres that the entire stadium was taken with him, leading to Johnsson's declaration.
What the audience did not know was that the winner was not decided in the epic battle on stage, but in the back rooms before the competition had even started. Following the competition, a huge controversy erupted over the failed 162.5 kg. press attempt by Veres. It was clearly a perfect lift, as every expert and non expert in the auditorium could see for themselves. Yet two out of three judges failed the attempt. One judge was a Soviet, the other a Pole. Waldemar Baszanowski, the five times world champion of the Poles reportedly rushed onto the stage and screamed at the Polish judge for this gross travesty.
In a paper called "The Tragic History of the Military Press in Olympic and World Championship Competition, 1928-1972", John Fair from the Department of History and Geography Georgia College and State University writes about the events in Berlin. The article specifically highlights the Veres incident and quotes from the notes of Bob Hoffman, the legendary American weightlifter and bodybuilder and founder of York Barbell: "Lack of Communist unity was most evident in the lightheavyweights at East Berlin where the Russian Vladimir Belyaev and Hungarian Veres were contending for the gold medal. Hoffman recorded that Veres’ press of 358 was [as] good as any made in the championships and the Russian and the Polish officials gave him a red light. Vorobyev, the Russian coach, stood with folded arms glaring at the Polish judge as he was about to render his decision and no doubt this influenced him, for up came a red light and .. Veres lost the championships" Hoffman inferred that the Russian judge must have influenced the Polish judge against the Hungarians. But he did not know about the hostilities in the Hungarian camp, and never would have dreamed that the influence could have come from the Hungarian judge! Sadly, this appears to be the case. Everyone knew that the composition of the judges was a mistake from the start. One was a Soviet, the other a Hungarian, and the third was Polish (the third contender in the field was a Pole). This left open the possibility of highly subjective, partisan judging. But what was not commonly known was that the Hungarian judge, who was at the time the president of the Hungarian Weightlifting Federation and one of Győző's biggest enemies at home, did not want a Veres victory.
A lengthy article appeared in the newspaper "Hungarian Youth" in December 1966, which reported on a Polish article they had uncovered. It was reported that after the competition, a great deal of criticism befell the Polish judge in his homeland because of his decision. He had to bear the brunt of the blame for the unjust decision because people were willing to accept that the Russian judge failed the lift in order to favor his countryman, but the Pole should have been impartial, or even favor the Hungarian since the two nations were friendly toward each other. Finally the Polish judge confessed that he made an agreement with the Hungarian, Vranyecz Kรกlmรกn, that Veres will not win the championship. When the world record was made with 162.5 kg., the Polish judge pressed the red button as agreed. But at the last moment Vranyecz betrayed the Polish judge and gave Veres a clear white light. This way he was the only one who appeared fair, and the Pole became the villain.
190 kg. world record, Berlin
When confronted with the accusations, Vranyecz of course denied the whole incident categorically. His defence, recorded in this article, was remarkable. First he pointed out that the big mistake was to pick the judges who were from the same countries as the main competitors. This, he said, was sure to cause friction, and he was even aware of gossip at the time of the competition that all the major competitors would be eliminated becasue the judges from opposing countries would fail each other's lifts. He then continued, that in a sense the Polish judge did Veres a favour by eliminating his 162.5 kg. press! The reasoning was that at these early stages of the competition the lines were not so clearly drawn following the failed press, because the other two competitors were known to be better in the snatch exercise. Had Veres become a more clear leader early on, then the Polish judge would most likely have failed his last two clean and jerk attempts, including the 190 kg. world record. So, the argument goes, in crippling Veres at the early stages of the competition the Polish judge did him a favour because he was allowed to make his clean and jerks at the end of the competition!
"Accusations, facts, intricacies?"
Veres also gave a statement in the article. He was by this time philosophical about the entire issue: "I have no illusions", he said. It was politics, not the weights that beat him. He pointed out that one month after the world championships, he set a new press world record of 163.5 kg. at a club event in Tatabánya. This was in a time frame when competitors typically lose form after a major event. So the 162.5 kg. lift in Berlin was no illusion. The red light was the climax of endless political difficulties at home, which made his preparation for Berlin short and not ideal. Following his forfeit of the championships in the previous year he was banned from the team and he was not assured of a place until the last minute. Vranyecz as the head of the Federation was foremost amongst his enemies, and sat directly before him in the head judges' seat. The judges' decision had cost him dearly. That year he woud have been named weightlifter of the year, an award that went to Beljajev instead. But perhaps worse, the decision cost him an extra two world records. He would have walked away with five world records in Berlin instead of three. And most importantly, the total world record weight would have exceeded the existing world record in the weight division above his. This had never been achieved by anyone in the history of the sport. Veres Győző was the first person in the history of weightlifting who had ever achieved that result. He did the lifts ... the officials un did them. This is what they took from Veres Győző on the 19th of October, 1966.
1967 It is hard to imagine how anyone could recover from such a betrayal, but in 1967 Győző may have had the chance to redeem himself once more. To go back into the international arena and lift so well, that no amount of scheming and cheating would have diminished him. I have no doubt he would have succeeded, but in an incredible eventuality his unbelievable bad luck struck him down again. As I understand it, the leadership in the World Weightlifting Federation were arguing about the admissability of Chinese lifters in international competition. There was a huge wrangle between the British and the Japanese, and in a monumental decision the championships were canceled in 1967! Győző did not get his chance to stand on the world stage. 1965, 1966, 1967 ..... three gold medals lost because of officialdom. As I knew my father in later years, he was always extreme in his views against officials and other assorted members of "the leadership". Now I understand the roots of his cynicism. He said that lifting weights was always easy for him .. it was getting to the platform that was hard.
One of many world records. Who knows how good he could have been if he was left to do his job? He became the world champion when he was just 26, and he improved quickly from that point for a couple of short years. Then the constant battles and uncertainties took their toll, often ending up in injuries which were not properly healed because he could not afford the time to rest. Always something to prove. But his body kept changing dramatically and in 1968 he looked twice as strong as he did in 1962. Had he received more support, I have no doubt he would have been the first person in his weight class to lift over 200 kg.
"Of Mice and Men"
Győző lost as many as three gold medals in three years because of officialdom at all levels. He always fought for his lifters and wanted the pestering, self important administrators to leave him alone. I guess he could be arrogant in his ways, which drew hostility from his enemies. He once told me a story about a day at training camp where the team was preparing for an important competition. They were informed by an official that a senior party member would be honoring them with a visit, but the time of the visit was not known. As a result Győző was asked to organize the team workout so they would be in the gym the entire day. Győző cordially informed the official that he was leading the greatest team of weightlifters in the world, and they were in the middle of preparing for an important competition. He handed the official a training program and said the training times are clearly marked, and Comrade Party Official could damn well come at those times if he wanted to see them train! For his irreverant attitude Győző was often criticised for "biting the hand that feeds him". But they had it the wrong way around: no one fed Veres Győző as a struggling young man when there was no weightliftng in the country. It was he that made the sport great with his own determination and genius. It was he that was feeding the legions of administrators and coaches who now made a good living from the sport! It was he who brought honour to the country, not the political leaders that were the object of scorn the whole world over.
It is indeed an upside down world when those who produce the results in their chosen field become commodities who are supposed to owe their living to the ones that exploit their talent and results. Győző was smart enough to know this, and he recognized the so called "hands that fed him" for what they were: leeches who would exploit whatever political system happened to be around to advance their personal agenda. Of course many years later it became obvious that he was right, with the fall of the Communist regime. In the 1960s these were not good thoughts to be entertaining in Hungary, if one wanted an easy life. The secret police were very much active, and it is my understanding that they had a word or two with my father during the course of events.
A 1967 magazine cover from the U.K., showing Győző pressing at the 1966 championships.
1968 Olympics, Mexico City The battles got so bad that Győző eventually became marginalized. He decided to leave Budapest for a small mining town called Tatabánya. The general manager of the coal mine there took a great liking to Győző's honesty and fighting spirit, and gave him the resources to build the most modern training hall anywhere in the world. This hall was opened in 1968 and posthumously dedicated to his name in 2011. A remarkable story shows how serious the consequences of his rebelliousness had become. Before the Olympics, there was a parade of Hungarian athletes in front of some of the central party members in Hungary. János Kádár himself, the man who oversaw the imprisonment and murder of dissidents after the 1956 revolution, came over to my father and forcibly stuck his finger in his chest with words to the effect: “we don’t fight with everyone all the time, Comrade Veres”. (Yes, they really did used to say "comrade"). Then he turned around and walked off without any attention to any other athlete. I think he was trying to make a point.
My brother and I with our father at the new weightlifting centre. (Taken around 1970). 40 years later I would return, to take part in a ceremony to dedicate the hall to its designer.
"The Olympics - from Inside" In this somewhat sad article the writer looks back at Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018;'s history in weightlifting, and the events in Mexico City. "The majority of his fellow competitors fell under the spell of his results, his convincing personality, brave approach and incredible vision .. following his early successes in Rome he forged some of the most wonderful moments in Hungarian sport. He became the weightlifting sport's spiritual leader, and their results awed the whole world. Veres became the outstanding competitor of his division. Success, success, success. But the opposing camp who were against his experiments tried to claim his success as their own. In 1963 Veres became the head of the sport, but his strength was sapped by eternal battles, leaving him less than fully prepared for the Tokyo games. Going in as the favorite, he missed the gold by a whisker, barely missing the winning 187.5 kg. His enemies used his loss against him and attacked his professional competence. He resigned his position as head. NemessĂĄnyi stood beside him, and was immediately removed from the team.
In 1966 Veres was alone, and prepared by himself for the Berlin championships. He set three world records at the meet, and lost the gold due to a 'judge's error'. After the defeat Veres started an intensive effort to reach a 500 kg. total, but unfortunately sustained a serious back injury in his effort. Had his circumstances been more supportive, he would have taken a much needed rest to overcome the injury in preparation for the 1968 games. But all he had was enemies, so he grit his teeth and continued training through his injury. His back injury got worse, and soon the games were too close to take the much needed break. Some in the leadership tried to deprive him of a place in the team, but at the last moment in spite of his condition he secured a place for himself. He went to Mexico for the first time with doubt and angst. Everything would depend on his injured back. But he had hope. He had lost two championships already on body weight: 'maybe just this once, luck will be on my side'. " But luck was not on his side. After a fierce battle with his injured back, for the first time since 1959 Veres did not stand on the podium. He placed fourth. "I hurried off the stage. Why did I hurry? I don't know. Perhaps because I was ashamed. Or perhaps because there were only four years until the Munich games. I am certain I will be there. I will do everything humanly possible to get on the podium. Onto the highest step."
1968 In His Own Words "My injury did not improve before Mexico. At times there was some improvement which gave me hope, then at other times the hellish pain gave me cause for despair. I was between hope and trepadation as the competition day approached. In the past the long and undisturbed preparation for competitions gave me time to plan my tactics, but now everything hinged around my injury and its daily status. I felt strong and wanted to prove it, but everything depended on my back. I thought that perhaps this once I will finally have luck. In Tokyo I came third because of bodyweight, in Berlin the second in the same way. After so much bad luck surely things will change. I have pressed 163 kg. I could do a 485 kg. total, which none of my opponents were capable of. I could snatch 140 for sure, maybe more. I don't need my back for that. Then perhaps 185 in the clean and jerk would be enough for a victory. I could already do 190 since two years ago. Somethimes when I thought like this, I even approached with hope. I started the warmup. For me this was the most exciting moment of the competition. The question: how much will my back endure? The press was the critical point .. this is where the back is most stressed ... where everyting will be decided. I started the warm up on 100 kg. With each lift I added 5 kg. with great excitement and more than a little fear. At 145 the pain was bearable, so I decided to start 5 kg. heavier on the platform.
During the first press I felt a very strong pain and for a moment I thought I would lose it. But, most importantly, it was a successful lift! There were only three of us left at this weight, so my turn came up again quickly. I had a stabbing pain in my back but there was no time for a masseur to relieve the pain. Fearful, trying to save my back, I attempted 155 ... with no luck. I had one more desperate attempt remaining. I pressed the weight above my head, and I felt that it was a clean lift. But two out of the three judges failed the lift. All that was left now in my hopeless position was to try and stay in the field as a medalist. The snatch went as I had planned, which strengthened my self confidence. It proved that in spite of my circumstances I had prepared well, snatching more than ever: 132.5, 137.5, 140 Kg. Bitterly I felt what a great result I was capable of, had my preparations been easier. For the first time I looked at my competition. Beljajev and Szelickij were beyond reach now. Three of us remained to battle for the bronze. I was the heaviest, so I had to beat the other two by at least 2.5 Kg. I started on 177.5 and then succesffuly lifted 182.5, as did my opponents. I had one last attempt on 185. This would have ensured third place. Unfortunately, I did not have enough strength left. I did not have the nervous energy that you must have in such a struggle ... the months of uncertainty and despair had sapped from me the strength to 'save' the lift. I was beaten. For the first time since 1959 I had not stood on the podium. I showered, and quickly hurried from the stadium."
This is a video of his two attempts at 155 press, as described on the previous page. He toys with the weight, it looks so easy. He looks more powerful here than ever. But you can almost feel the pain in his back. You can see how gingerly he keeps adjusting his position to avoid the back pain. In his first attempt at 155 this did not work, and we can see the weight crashing down. But then he settles himself, and presses the weight like there was nothing in his hands. The weight goes straight up, without any problem. But this is the weight that is failed by two out of three judges! Had he been given this weight he would definitely have received a medal, and with an extra boost in confidence it may even have been a gold. Is this another stolen Veres victory? Perhaps what is even more amazing to consider is the fact that he was so close to the victory podium even with a severely injured back. Imagine if his preparation was not marred by having to battle the political leadership, if he was not driven to endure injury without the possibility of rest in his hostile environment. I have little doubt in my mind that with that awesome strength he would have won the gold, and he would have done so with a clean and jerk of over 200 kg. This would have put him only 15 kg. short of the world record today, over forty years later!
1969 "Still, Veres Győző"
I have never seen these results recorded anywhere else, but this article documents Veres Győző's final moral victory. It is a report of a "miner's competition" in a small town in Hugary, December 23, 1969. Veres broke through the magical 500 kg. ceiling that he promised in 1963. He lifted 170 kg. in the press, 145 kg. in the snatch, and 190.5 kg. in the clean and jerk, for a total of 505.5 kg. A full three years later at the 1972 Olympics the gold medalist in this weight category pressed only 10 kg. more, and clean and jerked 0.5 kg less. Somehow he picked himself up from the defeat of Mexico, healed his terribe back injury, and in a quiet lonely place in the middle of nowhere, not recorded by the machinery of officialdom, he beat the world one last time.
Veres Győző: "Satisfied? Impossible!"
March 19, 1970, this remarkable article by Cserhalmi Imre appeared in the Hungarian national daily paper. In this article he recalls the history of Győző's career as he broke out on his own to create the sport of Weghtlifting in Hungary. I quote: "His personal achievements were always only a secondary goal to the advancement of his sport, where he was always sensitive to compromise of any kind. He headed the sport in various official capacities, but only for a brief time (which were the most successful times!). Unfortunately his great talents did not include patience or diplomacy. There was great international interest in his training methods, but at home he was often forced to coach in secret, when the officially appointed coach had his back turned. During the lead up to the 1968 Olympics, at the European championships in Moscow, every Hungarian weightlifter was eliminated. There was nothing else to do but turn back to Veres for results. There were two distinct camps that went to the Olympics, as is commonly known. The four that trained with Veres brought home 13 points, and the three that trained without him brought home just a single point.
But still, Veres has to start from the back, again and again he has to prove himself. But this never bothered him. He never succumbed to the heavy weights; only to the politics, the fortune seeking, and the leadership battles. He was possessed, and remains so. He accepts. His struggles have not withered him, nor driven him to seek self interest, but hardened his will. After his third reference to Greek mythology and his second quote from an Ady (Endre) verse, I ask about his interest in literature. What has he learned? 'Well, I see that whenever an individual wants something more, something bigger, then even in the most favourable of times that person will have a battle on their hands. And that there is no more despicable human trait than to be satisfied.' The Hungarian team is currently training without him. But still he is there. It is an open secret that even the newest successes come from the general adoption of his training methods. But the credit will not go to him. In his thirtyfourth year of life he has to prove himself again. That he has to do battle against younger lifters who grew up under his own mentorship, this is a part of his and his sport's sad history. This May we will see the National Championships and selection trials for the European Championships. If anyone deserves success, then that is surely Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018;."
1972 Győző won the National Championships one last time in 1970. But the battles with the federation came to a head, resulting in the appointment of Aján Tamás. The Hungarian language Wikipedia documents Aján's appointment to weightlifting. He had no special prior interest in weightlifting, being involved as an official in several different sports. He was installed as General Secretary of the Hungarian Weightlifting Federation in 1968 with the specific goal of sorting out the war between Veres and the other coaches. Under the new leadership Veres Győző became completely marginalized. His training system and methods were appropriated with no credit given to him. His best lifters were convinced to leave with offers of better support. In 1972 he did not go to the Olympics where he so wanted to beat the world one more time. There is no doubt in my mind that with the support of his country, he would have done just that. But it was not to be. Ten years of struggle and betrayal had taken their toll. With the decline of his powers as a competitive weightlifter, the ill feeling was starting to affect his family. His two sons found it more and more difficult to obtain good grades at school, though their work had not decreased in quality. My mother soon realized that the doors which were once flung open to Veres Győző were now being slammed, one by one. Somehow, the Veres family had to leave Hungary. And so it was with a heavy heart that Veres Győző turned his back on his beloved homeland, abandoning the glorious sport he had catapulted into the limelight ten years earlier.
Hungarian weightlifting went into an irreversible decline after Győző's departure. For a few years there were some random, individual successes, but the team was never again a force to be reckoned with. By 1990 they had fallen outside the top 10. By 1995 they were outside the top 15. Hungary is now an insignificant weightlifting nation, as it was before the age of Veres Győző.
Aján Tamás is the most successful surviving legacy of the golden age of Hungarian Weightlifting. He ascended to the helm of the International Weightlifting Federation in 1976 where he remains to this day. Győző's greatest nemesis became the most powerful man in international weightlifting. In 2011 he received the Order Of Friendship award from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "for his contribution to strengthening the cooperation in the field of physical culture and sports with the Russian Federation".
The greatest? It would be remiss of us to leave this era of Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018;'s life without some last thoughts about the lifting career which briefly made him the greatest lifter in the world. The following charts from Wikipedia show the meteoric rise, but also the incredible bad luck, which characterized his career. In his first Olympics in 1960 he placed third with a total weight (press+snatch+clean and jerk) of 405 kg in the 75 kg weight category. In 1961 still at 75 kg, he improved 15 kg on his 1960 total to come second in the world championships.
1962 was the big year, and here we can see why. He moved up one weight category to 82.5 kg., but with an incredible 40 kg. improvement in his total. That's like going from a 10 second sprint to a 9 second one in just a year! No wonder the world was stunned by this man.
1963 another gold and a 17 kg. improvement over the previous year. But now he was only 2.5 kg. away in his total lift from the winner of the next heavier category. And he handily beat the silver medal winner in that class, who himself was a world champion in previous years!
1964. The year things started to go wrong, with an injury sustained while lifting, grief stricken over his mother's death. Even with an injury at the Olympics, he attempted a final lift that would secure the gold, but barely missed it. In the final standings he lifted the same weight as the silver medalist, but received the bronze because of his slighty higher body weight.
1965 he was recovering from his injury, but he was not given a place on the team at Teheran because of an argument with the officials. His result from as much as two years earlier (477.5 kg.) would have been enough to easily secure the gold medal.
1966. Again, he lifted the same as the gold medal winner but lost on bodyweight. But 1966 was the year he was controversially failed in his third press, which was a world record 162.5 kg lift. Had he been awarded that lift his total would have been 490 kg., which was more than the winner of the weight category above his. The only other weightlifters who legitimately achieved this at a world championship were Rudi Plyukfelder, whom Győző beat, and two legends of modern weightlifting, David Rigert and Yurik Vardanyan. But these men came from a long history of Soviet domination, whereas Veres Győző came like a comet from out of the darkness. Who knows how far he would have gone if the darkness had just let him be?
In spite of the hardships off stage, Veres GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; amassed an impressive list of achievements on stage. This table from the Hungarian Wikipedia summarizes his medals from the Olympics, World, and European Championships. Olympics: 2 bronze. World Championships: 2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze European Championships: 2 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze
In addition he set a large number of world records. The exact number is hard to determine, and the Hungarian Wikipedia lists these 18. Two are listed as unofficial. The table labels are in Hungarian, so the following translation is given nyomás = press, lökés = clean and jerk, összetett = total With Győző's driving force the Hungarian team placed second in 1962, 1963, equal second in 1969, and third in 1966. After he left the country, the team never again reached those heights, quickly falling to a regular position of around fifth and sixth. It only took around two generations of lifters to fall outside the top ten. There is no doubt about the weightlifting genius of Veres Győző.
I think Turkey was always going to be a stepping stone, a way to escape Hungary before moving someplace else. Turkey was too close to Hungary, and we would not be out of reach there. In any case we only had permission to be there for two years. It was almost unheard of in those days that a whole family was allowed to leave the Soviet block like we did. He wanted to go get away from Hungary to a powerful, untouchable nation like the United States, or a far faraway place like Australia. In the end it turned out to be the far faraway place. In retrospect it is a huge tragedy for Győző that Turkey was not our final destination. The Turks loved my father and treated him with enormous respect. Before we left there, they offered him a very well paid, long term contract to try and convince him to stay. Apart from the glory years 1962 and 1963, I think the Turkish years were the happiest of his life. Unlike any place we lived before or since, the Turkish sporting leadership was intested only in building a great Weightlifting team. Unencumbered by petty personal power struggles between talentless parasitic politically motivated individuals, the Turks simply sought the best person to propel their nation into the International limelight. And that person was Veres Győző.
Teaching his training system in Turkey.
Refik Colasan recalls the Turkish Years
"It was in the mid 60s and early 70s. My friends and I were doing weightlifting under very primitive conditions, without proper equipment or knowledge, and more importantly without a proper coach. The majority of us were university students and we were trying to get some information mainly from body building and weightlifting magazines published in the USA. In late 60s, a famous Hungarian athletics coach, a former European champion (1936) Josefh Kovach (Clery) came to Turkey to train Turkish athletes. We became good friends with him and his wife. In 1970 he arranged a visit for me to Hungary to do some weightlifting training together with Hungarian lifters. He was so kind to allocate for me his small house at Budapest, just next to Hotel Budapest. In the summer of 1970 I went to Budapest and started to train weightlifting with Hungarian lifters at a training hall next to Nep Stadion. One of the first persons whom I met there and became good friend was Nemessányi Arpad. After some time I asked Nemessányi, if he would like to come to Turkey as a coach. This was surprising for him. After thinking for a couple of days he told me that he would not be interested, but his friend Veres Győző is interested with this proposal. So, one day we went to Tatabánya together with Nemessányi and visited Veres and Teresa at their house. That is how I first met and became friends with this great man. I briefed Veres about the situation in Turkey. He was interested to come to Turkey and I promised to him to follow the issue when I return back to my country.
At the time when I talked to Veres I was only a sportsmen had no official task in the Turkish W/L Federation. However, I and some of my weightlifting friends were quite active in making some proposals and influential on some decisions of the Federation and our ideas were respected. After I returned back to Turkey, I raised this issue with two other lifters who were my very close friends (still so), namely Ali Tan and Savas Agaoglu. We jointly decided to have a meeting with our W/L Fed president Mr. Arif Say. During this meeting we convinced him to start taking actions through Hungarian W/L Fed and Tamรกs Ajรกn to invite Veres to Turkey as a coach. Finally official formalities and correspondence started. At that time communication was only by letters, telephone and telex. At the end of these efforts and almost after 3 years Hungary agreed to release Veres as a trainer to train Turkish lifters. I listened from Veres about his story how difficult it was for him to get the official release together with his family, all traveling to Turkey. As far as I remember, it was the General Secretary of the Communist Party who gave this permission after discussing the issue with Veres face to face.
Finally, in the summer of 1973 Veres informed me about his and his familyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s arrival day to Istanbul. As far as I remember a friend from W/L group in Istanbul met the family in Istanbul and arranged their transfer to Ankara by bus. Ali, Dr. Savas and I met the family at Ankara upon their arrival. In the following days we introduced him to the Federation members and lifters in Ankara and he started his duty as trainer. The majority of outstanding lifters were in Ankara and he started to see our lifts and results. He was a real professional and was very eager to improve our results. He was making estimates for our results for the coming two months and to be frank we did not believe him. But after a few months we all saw that our results were going up tremendously. Certainly the training program he prepared for each of us had very important impact on improving our results. He was dealing one by one with each of us. He was even accompanying us to the sauna before the completion. I never forget his rubbing me with a towel to open the pores and enable more sweating. He was dealing with all of us. I must admit that I was different for him as a friend and he had specific interest for my success. If I was successful you cannot imagine how happy he was and if I was not, he was really very sorry. During his stay in Turkey, the results in W/ L really improved and lifters were all committed to his training sessions. We were training even on Sundays, but a bit lighter. Veres also provided training courses for trainers in other provinces of Turkey. I must mention that majority of todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s W/L trainers in Turkey were his sportsmen and most of them also attended the training courses given by Veres. Therefore, todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s weightlifters owe a lot to Veres, although most of them have never met him (they were kids then).
During his stay in Turkey he somehow got in touch with Australian W/L Federation to get a trainers position there. Finally he succeeded and he was officially invited to Australia and he decided to move there. Certainly, Hungarian Federation and Government were not happy at all with this news. In 1975 there was an international tournament in Ankara which Hungarian team and managers also came. The authorities of Hungarian W/L Federation put a lot of pressure on him to change his mind. Later on Veres told me that they insisted to him first to return back to Hungary and then get an official permission to go to Australia. He told me that if he would return back to Hungary he would never be able to go out of the country again. I think it was the winter of 1976 when the family prepared to travel to Australia. We were all very sorry about this departure. He gave a farewell party at his home, which his closest friends/lifters attended. I and my wife went to Ankara airport together with Veres family on the day of their departure. It was a winter day and was snowing slightly when we drove to the airport. The plane had some delays and the snow got stronger. After their departure we left the airport with our car, but there was a terrible snow storm. We could only drive a few kilometers and parked our car at a gasoline station because it was impossible to drive without tire chains. Another car with chains took us back to the city. This was adventure day for me and for my wife. Next day the weather was beautiful and we went back to that gasoline station to pick our car. We all developed such good friendship with Veres and his family and we never forgot them and our memories with them even after many years. He has always been remembered with appreciation. It is now more than 35 years of his departure from Ankara, but when a few of us (old lifters) come together, it is for sure that we talk about some memories with him.
During his Australia days we unfortunately could not contact so often, because he was busy with his new occupation and because the major correspondence means of those days was writing letters. I think we were both lazy at writing! Luckly, I had the chance to visit Australia two times, one in 1978 and the other in 1992 and during both of these visits I had the chance to see the family. In 1992 I was the vice president of Turkish W/L Federation and I came there with our Olympic champion Naim Suleymanoglu for a special show competition. One may wonder, despite his short stay in Turkey why Veres left such a good impression on his friends/lifters and why he is still not forgotten. We remember him as an honest and polite man. He had a strong personality and said directly what he thought. He was a good family father, which we have all appreciated. He was committed to his job, and hard working. He was a real sportsman and professional, feeling our success or sorrow in his heart. Like all of us, over the years my relatives or friends pass away and I sometime can go to their funeral ceremony and sometimes I cannot even when these people are buried in my home town. For me it was a concrete duty to go the funeral ceremony of Veres which was held in Budapest, representing there his Turkish friends and also Turkish W/L Federation. This may give one an idea about our respect and love for Veres."
The Turks (above). "Two perfect men". Nemessรกny and Veres (below).
1974 Goodbye Turkey
The shell shocked family, dressed for the blizzard they left behind in Ankara, arrive at Tullamarine International Airport to face the hot Australian sun. Thirty seven years later I would arrive alone at the same place on a cool February evening, to be told by my brother that my father had passed away while I was in the air.
Győző becomes Victor
The Hungarian name Győző is difficult for English speakers to pronounce, but it has an exact translation into English .... aptly, it is Victor. He would be known as Victor from now on. His wife, Terézia became Teresa. Les Martyn was the man who was instrumental in bringing Victor to Australia. He had leading positions in the Weightlifting as well as the Olympic organizing bodies in Australia. Nick Ciancio was one of the toughest and most talented lifters Australia ever had. He and my father became friends instantly, and Nick improved his results in the short time they were training together. Nigel was a superheaviweight lifter, and became the strongest man in the country under Victor's coaching, setting national records. They became friends and Nigel wrote a book, "The Sporting Revolution", which tried to capture Victor's training philosophies. In 1974 it looked like Victor finally caught a lucky break in the "Lucky Country"!
Les Martyn and Nick Ciancio
Showing Nigel Martin how it's done.
1975 As luck would have it ...
"On Tuesday November 11th, 1975, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Mr Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister and appointed Mr Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker Prime Minister. The dismissal was the most dramatic event in the history of the Australian federation. For the first time, an unelected vice-regal representative had removed from office a government which commanded a majority in the House of Representatives." ( h t t p : / / whitlamdismissal.com/overview/)
Gough Whitlam (left) and the man who replaced him, Malcolm Fraser.
Gough Whitlam was a visionary prime minister, a strong believer in free education and social programs, who provided the funding for sport which was used to bring Victor to Australia. After his dismissal, the conservative government of Malcolm Fraser and his treasurer John Howard instigated the "chain gang", a committee formed to cut all un necessary spending from the budget. Victor was unfortunately regarded as an un necessary spending burden. Virtually overnight Victor Veres was no longer one of the greatest living weightlifters and coaches on Earth. He was an out of work migrant with a wife and two young children. He received no help from anyone in the weightlifting fraternity. There were many among the existing coaches and clubs who resented his presence in the first place, and the competing factions scrambled to retain control of what little was left. Victor and Teresa found temporary jobs in various factories. Victor had decent English skills but Teresa struggled for many years. Struggle was the right word for those years, as the great champion began to come to terms with a new life in obscurity.
Difficult years He only knew how to do one thing well: to take talented weightlifters and make them the best in the world. Many people looked down at him I think, as he tumbled out of favour. They told him to "reinvent" himself, and they blamed him for languishing. Years later in Hungary his friend Nemessรกnyi told me a story of how he'd always tried to get my father to ask the government for money in order to open a green grocery in Budapest. "A grocery? I am not a grocer" my father would reply, shaking his head. He was not a grocer. He was the greatest weightlifter in the world. Is that so hard to understand? No one understood it. Not even his own family who, sadly, would blame him in years to come for not becoming something else. In a world where actors become politicians and everyone with a pretty face thinks they can sing, why can't such a genius be something else? Too late, I now understand. I would not ask a languishing Van Gogh to sell insurance. These were difficult times, and there was no one to help. Some people he met in a rowing club hooked him up with a small factory and he and my mother worked there for a while. It didn't pay much I imagine, and they weren't there long. He went to some football clubs to see if there was a need for a strength coach, but back in those days I suppose there were not so many opportunities.
Alex, the man who saved my father in Australia.
Finally a Hungarian immigrant who had been working as a car detailer in a car yard took him in, and taught him the trade. It was hard work, taking dirty run down old cars and cleaning them inside out so the car dealership could sell it off as a "barely used", "pre loved" car. Victor had found the vocation that he would keep until his body finally broke, forcing him into retirement many years later.
1981 The Australian Institute of Sport
"Set up in 1981 after the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games in which Australia failed to win a gold medal. This was regarded as a severe national embarrassment in Australia .... (The) Institute's well-funded programs (and more generally the generous funding for elite sporting programs by Australian and State Governments) are regarded as a major reason for Australia's success in international sporting competition." (Wikipedia entry on the AIS). Weightlifting was the first sport to be inducted into the institute, whose governing body asked the Weightlifting Federation to recommend a coach. A newspaper article published in "The Australian" following Victor's death reports that Les wanted the job to go to Victor. Obviously. But it went instead to a Welshman by the name of Lyn Jones. I remember one evening my father came home from work, devastated. He had heard that Jones was appointed to the lucrative position as head coach at the Institute. Victor had never been personally approached about the position before the appointment, and he was never involved in any selection process. As far as I know, the selection was a closed process within the Federation itself. Jones was at the time on the Board of Directors, and with the support of key members including the powerful Coffa brothers, the Federation recommended Jones for the position.
In due course Australian Weightlifting and Australian Weightlifters would pay dearly for the decisions made by the selection committee. But in 1981 Jones became head of weightlifting at the Institute, and Hawthorn with Paul Coffa as coach eventually became a satellite of the Institute. Everyone got to keep their weightlifters and Victor Veres was finally exiled from the sport completely. History is sometimes written on the basis of what we want people to believe rather than the substance of facts. The fact is that in 1981 the man who was possibly the greatest living weightlifting coach in the world was sentenced to life without parole in a car cleaning workshop, and Australian Weightlifting was taken over by Jones and the Coffas. To this day (February 2013) the web site of the Hawthorn Weightlifting Club describes Paul Coffa as "legendary ... one of the World's best coaches". Paul Coffa has not produced a single world champion lifter in his entire coaching career. Not a single one. I reproduced the image below because without that to look at, I would scarcely believe that I had ever seen this particular version of history.
Victor's lot Victor's life became that of a slave in a ramshackle suburban home. We moved in next door to the car lot where he would work himself into an early grave from dawn to dusk. Literally. He cleaned the yard every morning as soon as he woke up, then he would come in to have breakfast before beginning his detailing job. Since we lived right next to the yard, he also acted as an unpaid security guard, opening and locking the stock yard. There were many break ins, where people would steal things from the cars in the middle of the night. There were even the occasional scuffles with the thieves. Eventually the yard acquired a guard dog, and it became our job to look after her. I also remember the smell of petrol. The salesmen often drove cars out to demo to clients and brought them back with empty tanks. My father had to then siphon petrol from other cars, using a plastic tube and his mouth, to fill the empty car. Somehow the salesmen never ran out before they came back, in which case they would have had to fill the car themselves. My father was always the lucky one who had to swallow mouthfuls of petrol. He never took a holiday, always worked on Saturdays and part days on Sunday. The family would help out on the weekends with the work and on the way home stop at McDonalds for a treat. He never took sick leave, except one time he took three days for a hernia operation, which he never told anyone about. Once he had a really bad flu and he came home early, in the afternoon, and sprawled himself across the floor in front of the heater. I will never forget the image of him resting his tired body, laying on his stomach with his glasses laid on the floor just out of reach of his fingertips.
The sad fact is that Victor was trapped in his fear. He was afraid of losing his job again, that he would not get the opportunity to find another job that could provide for his family as well as car cleaning did. It is a sad testament to the abject cruelty of the capitalist system that it could take a great champion who took up battle with the much feared communist dictators, and turn him into a scared, obedient slave. But I don't want to make it sound like things were all bad, or that somehow Australia was to blame for our misfortune. Australia is a great country and we did have our share of opportunities. My brother and I were awarded scholarships at Scotch College, one of the finest schools in the country. I won a National Schoolboy title in weightlifting while at Scotch. We both did well in our studies, and graduated with honours from university. Australia itself, apart from the Weightlifting disgrace, was not bad to us. It was just ... indifferent. In the end we were just another immigrant family who came from a different world, and did not know how to live properly in this one.
Scotch College, Melbourne
1989 The Wall Crumbles in Hungary
Sopron, Hungary, was the beginning of the end of the Soviet occupation of Europe. The borders opened in the Pan European Picnic, and they never closed again. The power of the Communists to violently persecute their enemies had vanished overnight. Many of his friends urged Victor to return. The world had swung in his direction, they said, and he could finally finish the battles he had started. But sadly he did not go back. Now we will never know exactly why. The most likely reason is that his pride prevented him. When he left Hungary he was a hero. Forgetting the endless bitterness and fights with the leadership, Veres Győző was worshipped by the common man. My father once told me a story of some fellow who, upon meeting him in a café, started chewing a glass because it was the only thing he could do that was extreme enough to show his respect for the great man. His enemies hated him but his friends, his country loved him. After all the years, he could not return a hero. He could only return as a broken down car cleaner whose hands screamed from the years of detergent in buckets of cold, car cleaning water. Shame drove him in haste off the Olympic platform in 1968 and shame kept him cleaning cars in a suburban car lot in 1989.
And the Institute Crumbles in Australia
I was an aspiring young weightlifter in the late 80's, with moderate success. I won the Australian Schoolboy and Youth Championships when I was under 16, and set some records too. But I was on the fringes of the establishment, training with the "rebel alliance", a small group who did not fit with the poilitical climate of the Institute and Hawthorn. My father did not have much time to train me then because I was at University and he was constantly working. He was also not overly pushy in getting me into weightlifting. I did not understand why, at the time. Of course now I do. In any case I was losing interest in lifting, because I had an offer to pursue a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science in Tucson, Arizona, which I took up in 1990. My friend Michael was the one who was telling me that the Institute was in trouble. Many lifters were becoming disillusioned with the training regime, and were planning to bring charges of some sort. Many of them were carrying bad injuries and were not receiving the coaching they needed, and there were allegations about the use of doping substances. In spite of the funding at the Institute, they were not delivering outstanding results. Australia's most prominent International success, Dean Lukin, was not coached at the Institute. In 1989 their efforts were rewarded by a preliminary senate enquiry into drugs in sport. The terms of reference were very broad, and the evidence examined very thorough. The findings of the preliminary enquiry were damning to Lyn Jones in particular, and the whole AWF leadership in general.
The newspapers loved the headlines! The article on the right, in particular, talks about how the Australians would buy steroids from the Eastern bloc countries and then be told by Jones to bring them into the country wearing their team track suits. The Eastern bloc athletes were well supplied through government programs, and Western money went a long way in those days. Of course officially no one in the leadership positions in any country knew anything about steroid use in weightlifting. These days we would call the athletes "drug cheats". All of them.
1990 Australian Weightlifting Collapses
The interim report was devastating in the findings concerning Weightilfitng at the AIS. They expected the Weightlifting Federation to take follow up action. But the Federation were the very people who put Lyn in there in the first place and, amazingly, they ignored the findings of the Australian Senate Enquiry. This prompted a second enquiry released in May 1990, which begins by summarizing the lack of response from the Australian Weightlifting Federation to the original investigation.
The findings of the enquiry are amazing. Pages and pages of stuff, of which I can only quote small fragments. The entire directorship of the AWF was implicated in a coverup concerning the use of public funds to supply anabolic steroids to their weightlifters. And they were protecting Lyn Jones who was at the centre of the controversy, in effect dismissing the findings by refusing to act on them. Instead, as noted by the quotations on the following page, some of the weightlifters who gave evidence, including my friend Michael, had their membership suspended from the federation. He was not allowed to compete, and thereby his weightlifting career was effectively terminated. This is the kind of power the governing officials have over the sport and the athletes. When the final report was released. It was so damning, that Weightlifting was eventually thrown out of the Institute, and has never returned. Australian weightlifting had lost. In the following two pages are excerpts from the conclusions of the report.
Mr. Sam Coffa. Alleged to be part of a coverup in the supply of anabolic steroids to athletes.
The report concludes that the board members have proven unsuitable to hold office. This is the same board, more or less, that voted against Victor to take the position as head coach at the Institute. What a tragic and reprehensible decision that turned out to be for Australian Weightlifting and for Australian weightlifters. There is not one weightlifter in Australia lifting in the last thirty years who shouldn't wonder what they could have been if the Board of the AWF had made the right decision in 1981.
Ajรกn Tamรกs and Paul Coffa at the IWF.
The IWF responds Finally the results of the preliminary inquiry had reached the IWF, which responded with this remarkable letter from Ajรกn Tamรกs, in which he second guesses the conclusions of the eight senators who studied over 6000 pages of documents, and defends Lyn Jones! The main substance of the defence appears to be a reference to Jones' grand sounding titles with the International Weightlifting Federation. Although the charges were never proven in a court of law, it seems to me that a simple assertion of a person's authority and position should not trump the balance of evidence as reported in the inquiry. In fact, the letter ends with a tone in which the conclusions of the esteemed senators are reduced to "suppositions and opinions"! Opinions! What's even more amazing about this letter is that it was written so soon after the disgrace of the 1988 Seoul Olympic games in Korea, where the entire Bulgarian team went home after their champion lifters started failing drug tests one after the other. Tamรกs gave a press conference in which he appeared flabbargasted at the apparent level of doping in his sport. Clearly there was a need for more vigilance in the future. Yet here we have an Australian Senate enquiry, which includes evidence from a Police enquiry, which includes confessions from elite Australian athletes that they were being given doping substances, and Ajรกn Tamรกs dismissed the entire thing as dangerous hearesay! Whatever action may have been taken at the International level to investigate these charges, it did not appear to damage the people implicated in the scandal. Quite the contrary, in fact.
"So are they all, all honorable men" If an athlete if found guilty of using doping substances, their lives are typically ruined. They are branded "cheats", their accomplishments stripped from them, and their livelihoods ruined. But look at what happened to these high level officials after the Senate Inquiry implicated them in a drugs scandal and found them "unsuitable to hold office." Lyn Jones: Fired from his position at the Institute, went to the U.S. to become "national director of coaching for the U.S. Weight Lifting Federation in Colorado Springs". When I first heard of this in 1991 I was convinced it had to be a different Lyn Jones. It had to be. But I was assured that it was the same man. Incredible.
Now Lyn Jones is back in Australia, on the Board of Directors at the Australian Weightlifting Federation. Paul Coffa: Left Melbourne and moved to Nauru with one of his lifters, Marcus Stephen, who later became president of Nauru, and won a silver medal for clean and jerk at the World championships in Athens, 1999. Sam Coffa: One of five Vice Presidents, International Weightlifting Federation, and Council Member of the IWF. Sam Coffa was elected into the IWF Hall of Fame in 2009. Marcus Stephen elected in 2005. Aján Tamás in 1992. Győző Veres does not appear to have a place there.
Lyn Jones (left), Marcus Stephen, and Paul Coffa (right) in the islands. Lyn Jones is receiving a life membership to the Oceania Weightlifting Federation for his outstanding service to the Oceania region. September 3, 2011. And here's Paul with Arnold! Arnold and my father met once, I believe, in the early 60's. Arnold was a young lifter in Austria and my father was king of the world. What a world it turned out to be. "O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason. Bear with me, My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, And I must pause till it come back to me."
Too late for Victor ... and for Australia
Between the desire, And the spasm Between the potency, And the existence Between the essence, And the descent Falls the Shadow For Thine is the Kingdom For Thine is, Life is, For Thine is the This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925)
I left Australia in 1990 to pursue my Ph.D. studies, but returned in 1991 for a visit. I left my father a fit man, still working hard every day ... when I saw him at the airport in 1991 it was a different man who greeted me. He walked toward me with a quick, excited step, but, limping! He had a strong limp which he tried with all the power of his tremendous will, to hide. But he could not. It had begun. The terrible arthritis of the hips had quickly set in, ushering in the last chapter of his life. Weightlifting was now truly a thing of the past. Even if the AWF had come to him and begged him to take over their disgraced sport, Victor would not have done it. Not when he could barely walk. He always believed in coaching by example. He worked a few more years in pain, but then finally he could barely walk and he was put on a disability pension. He needed a hip replacement operation but his blood pressure was very high and doctors refused to take the chance on an operation. Victor's blood pressure was always over 220. As a young champion he saw it as a sign of strength. The higher he blood pressure, the stronger he felt. But doctors don't see it like that. They put him on a lot of drugs for his pain and for his blood pressure, and together they had a devastating effect on his well being. His wits became dulled, and between the ever worsening hips and the physical side effects of the pills, he barely left the house.
Eventually the hips got so bad, the operation had to go ahead. Victor was afraid by now of going into surgery. He never really trusted the medical profession, and he was sure a hip replacement would finish him. We thought he was crazy: it was a common operation that had miraculous effects, we believed. But in the end he was right about that too. The Veres bad luck did not disappoint, and the operation did not go well. His operated leg became too short and he felt a constant numbness. The doctors did not believe him and threw him out of hospital emergency rooms several times when he came back to complain that something was wrong. Doctors can be strange creatures. Very few were truly sympathetic, and some seemed to take pleasure in belittling him once they found out he was once a weightlifter. Ah, they said, "you see where this weightlifting gets you?" They almost seemed happy he was crippled, as if it was part of some kind of divine retribution. Finally Victor was barely able to stand up and on a final hospital visit they determined that his spine was about to collapse, so they rushed him to an emergency spinal operation. I was living in Norway by then, and I got word that my father was in hospital and that he may never walk again! Doctors gave him a 50/50 chance that he would become disabled. I rushed back to Melbourne to help my mother look after him, since she was alone at this time. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, the first day I went to see him in the hospital ward. To my surprise he was not in his bed when we found him, but hunched over a chair exercising his back and legs by pushing himself up with his arms. Victor was not going to live his days out in a hospital bed! He exercised relentlessly and was amazing all the nurses with his progress.
Victor got into some sort of a fight with the head doctor. Typical. I don't know exactly what the fight was about, but when I met the doctor I understood why he must have irritated my father. He was the most condescending, arrogant little fellow I ever met. He was determined to take every shred of dignity from my father. "A world champion? Well look at you now. This is what you get for abusing your body like that. You should be grateful you can even get out of bed, thanks to me .." Veres Győző was a weigtlifting champion for about ten years of his life. He spent over thirty years with his body contorted out of shape in the bowels of stinking cars, late into the night on those cold damp Melbourne nights. Yet this had nothing to do with his illness in the mind of this medical genius. But oh yes, he was now paying the price for once having been the greatest weightlifter on the planet. I wonder, in which year of medical school do they teach that particular brand of logic? I went back to Norway to my work, and for a few months longer Victor struggled, with my mother's help. Then one night after watching some news program on television he pushed himself to his feet with the declaration "Idiots. All idiots". He lay down his glasses in the lounge as he went to bed. He never picked them up again. Victor slipped into un consciousness some time in the middle of the night. He never woke up, though in intensive care he showed some responsiveness. We were hopeful for yet another Veres victory. But eventually it became clear that our hopes were in vain, and I booked a flight home. I was in the air on the morning of the first, when Veres Győző passed away from this world.
He is gone February 1, 2011
I didn't really sleep in those few days, but one morning I clutched my iPad in the early hours when one would normally be waking up, and I found a message from a friend in the U.S., asking if I had seen my father in the news? I searched for his name and sure enough, ten pages of results confronted me on Google! News sources from around the world had reported on his passing, including many top U.S. news sites. I then found a moving tribute from the International Weightlifting Federation. I stared at the picture and read words about how "he laid the foundations of modern weightlifting ... and the weightlifting community considered him in his time as the most influential figure on the international stage."
To my disappointment here was nothing reported in the Australian news. Nothing. There was no mention even on the web site of the Australian Weightlifting Federation. They have a "latest news" banner on the front page. February 5 reads "Insurance Details". Apparently not much happened at the beginning of February in the world of Australian Weightlifitng ...
Later in the day we received a phone call from Aján Tamás, President of the International Weightlifting Federation. He offered us any help he could give in these difficult times. Our family had an un conscious, shared understanding that Veres Győző would not go into the suburban Melbourne soil to continue his exile in death. We informed Aján that my father will return to Hungary and receive the honors he deserved in life. Aján committed his services to make this happen. The arrangements were taken over by Szücs József, whose heroic efforts brought Veres Győző to his final resting place in the bowels of St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest. His circumstances in Australia were a personal tragedy for him and for his immediate family. They were a National Tragedy for Australia, where the large investment in Weightlifting at the Institute of Sport was squandered, and generations of talented young lifters were forced to endure a standard of coaching which brought disgrace to the entire sport and disillusionment to their spent lives.
I was very disappointed by the silence in Australia following my father's death, especially considering the international reaction. Newspapers from the US to the Virgin Islands reported his death, the beautiful dedication from the International Weightlifting Federation, and many private news feeds lamented his passing. But in Australia there was no official acknowledgment whatsoever, nothing of the fact that one of the greatest athletes of our times lived on its soil, toiled in disgraceful conditions that near nigh crippled him, and perished in obscurity. The president of the Australian Federation posted a letter on an unofficial web log dedicated to Weightlifting news, where a few Australian athletes recalled their brief experiences with Victor. But no official recognition on the Federation web site. In my despair I contacted newspapers so that I could tell his story in the land that became his home. Most left me hanging on a telephone in the foyer of a busy, impersonal concrete building. In the end I was lucky to find one man with a soul, and he published a beautiful article which told much of the sad tale, in "The Weekend Australian".
There is a common assumption in the world that talent and hard work will eventually lead to success. The rich are rich because they work hard and because they are smart, so the thinking goes. Conversely, if you don't succeed then it is because of a lack of talent or because you are lazy. The world's richest woman, Australia's Gina Rinehart declared as much when she said in a magazine article that the poor "... should spend less time drinking ... and more time working." Veres Győző was proof to the contrary. He worked hard enough for three lifetimes, and his intellect and talent are beyond dispute. The archbishop of St. Stephen's Basilica remarked in his sermon that God gifts each of us a talent at birth and our job is to nurture and grow that talent in our lifetime. He went on to say that Győző was rich beyond compare in his gifts, but still returned them many times magnified. Yet by all accounts Victor left this world as a failure. Barely a thousand dollars in his bank account, some medals in a plastic shopping bag. Crippled by years of hard labour, mocked by arrogant, conceited doctors who blamed his condition on his weightlifting instead of 25 years spent writhing in the footwells of cars to get chewing gum stains out of the carpet. In two worlds with wildly different ideologies and cultures, he failed. In Hungary he was forced to spend his days fighting for a place in the very sport he created. In Australia he was not even given the chance to fight. In a way the Australian betrayal must have seemed even more cruel escaping the tyranny of a communist dictatorship to seek a new life in a free land, only to be thrown out of his sport and swiftly forgotten.
Yet, despite his fate, in some way Victor was also freed by his sad circumstance. Hard as the work was, the rules were simple. One car cleaned = $35. Two cars = $70. No officials to contend with, no judges to fail your lift. Just the workshop, the dirty cars, and all the time in the world. He never lamented his fate nor complained about his work. He became a champion car cleaner. His spirit never broke. In the 90s he was interviewed for a Hungarian newspaper article where he said that he would once return to Hungary and confront those who betrayed him. They knew who they were, he said, and he wondered if they could look him in the eye. Sadly, that question will never be answered. He will never go home and confront his enemies. He grew tired of the world. He did not want to die, exactly, but he finally had enough of the ignorance that hounded him his whole life. And he died. I wish I believed that something goes on after death. I wish I could believe in a moment one day, when he would get his chance to look into the eyes of those who betrayed him. Each and every one of them.
February 8, 2011 Everything that has ever been said about funerals says nothing, in the end. The sense of loss can only be felt, not described. The most touching surprize of the occasion was handed to us by Turkey, in the form of two deeply felt letters. The first, from the true friend Refik Colasan who lamented the loss of the great man. "It seems like yesteday ..." it read, as Refik remembered the countless lives my father touched and made better. The second was from the current President of the Turkish Weightlifting Federation. He did not even know my father, but in a beautiful letter he commemorated the contribution of my father, as the first prominent foreginer to ever come to Turkey to help its young weightlifters reach the position they enjoy today.
He passed just as he lived in Australia. Unremarkably. Some weightlifters came and some were genuinley remorseful. Some came to catch up and gossip with one another. Most of them had not bothered to call in years, to see how Victor was. Truth be told, I didn't want most of them to come. Like my father before me, I despise hypocrisy more than just about anything. "What do they know of death, who know nothing of life?"
Coming Home. June 24, 2011
St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest
Among the friends and reporters was Refik Colasan who paid Turkey's last respects. GyĹ&#x2018;zĹ&#x2018; brought the Turkish flag into a Roman Catholic Basilica.
The Australian government courteously declined my invitation to send a representative. His home of 40 years went without mention.
How do you end a story like this? I spent my life in the shadow of a great man who suffered great injustice. I never really knew the details of that injustice, merely felt its consequences. I see now that in many ways my life has been a series of ill fated, foolish attempts to redress the wrongs that were done to him. For a long time I even tried to become a weightlifter. To win the battles he lost. What more could I have done? It is a question that will follow me to my grave. I took the world between my legs in 1990 and started my lifelong, self imposed exile from everything I had loved, to escape everything I despised. A cultural refugee, on the run. I missed everything of his declining years. I missed the stories I could have heard from him instead of his friends and posthumous dedications on web logs. I realize now that in many ways I did not even know the real Veres Győző. He was taken from the world and from me in 1975. I missed everything, and there is no penance nor success nor victory that can fix anything. Death closes all doors. I hope everyone reads this story. I hope no one reads it. I hope justice is done. I hope nothing happens. What does it matter now? I failed him in every possible way, and there is no way to remedy that now. One of my cousins, a successful businessman in Hungary recently told me how great an infulence Veres Győző had been on his life, how empowering just to know that he had such a man in his family. He wondered what amazing influence it must have had on my own life to have him as my father? Yes, I told him that it shaped my entire existence. For I know better than anyone what this world can do to such a man.
I don't know if there will ever be a man like him again. All I know is that we let this one go. We just let him go.
Acknowledgments. Some of the factual material about weightlifting, in the form of tables and figures, comes from Wikipedia, the free on line encyclopedia. Some historical facts and statements are from content provided by the "House of Terror" museum in Budapest. Some literary quotes are used throughout the book, from authors including William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, and Emily Bronte. The embedded weightlifting videos in the iBooks version are edited from YouTube provided free content. Quote from Webster's book by Geoff Hegedus. Finally I would like to thank my cousin Kert茅sz J贸zsef, who meticulously stored the many newspapers from which the articles are taken, and who kindly gifted them to me following my father's death. This book could not have been written without him and his dedication to a Hungarian hero.