The "Blood in the Water" match (Hungarian: melbourne-i vérfürdő, "Blood bath of Melbourne") was a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The match, which took place on December 6, 1956, was against the background of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and saw Hungary defeat the USSR 4–0. The name was coined after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor emerged during the last two minutes with blood pouring from above his eye after being punched by Soviet player Valentin Prokopov.
Tensions were already high between the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams, as the Soviets had taken advantage of their political control of Hungary to study and copy the training methods and tactics of the Olympic champion Hungarians.
Then, on October 23, 1956, a demonstration by students of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics escalated into an uprising against the Soviet puppet government in Budapest. For a few days it appeared Hungary might free itself from the USSR. On November 1, however, Soviet tanks began rolling into Hungary and from November 4 to November 10 forces began suppressing the uprising with air strikes, artillery bombardments, and tank-infantry actions.
At the time, the Hungarian water polo team was in a mountain training camp above Budapest. They were able to hear the gunfire and see smoke rising. The players were the defending Olympic champions; with the Summer Olympics in Melbourne two months away, they were moved into Czechoslovakia to avoid being caught in the revolution. The players only learned of the true extent of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown after arriving in Australia and they were all anxious for news of friends and family.
By the start of the Olympics, the uprising had been suppressed and many players saw the Olympics as a way to salvage pride for their country. "We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country" said Zádor after the match. The match was played in front of a partisan crowd bolstered with expatriate Hungarians (many of whom had been in the boxing arena before to see the Hungarian László Papp) as well as Australians and Americans, two of the Soviet Union's Cold War opponents.
In the morning before the start, the Hungarians had evolved a strategy to taunt the Russians, whose language they had been forced to study in school. In the words of Ervin Zádor: "We had decided to try and make the Russians angry to distract them."
From the beginning, kicks and punches were exchanged. At one point, a punch thrown by Hungarian captain Dezső Gyarmati was caught on film. Meanwhile, Zádor scored two goals to the crowd's cheers of Hajrá Magyarok! ("Go Hungarians!").
By the final minutes of the match, Hungary was leading 4–0. Zádor was marking Valentin Prokopov, with whom he had already exchanged words. Prokopov struck him, causing a bleeding gash. Zádor left the pool and his bleeding was the final straw for a crowd already in frenzy. Many angry spectators jumped onto the concourse beside the water, shook their fists, shouted abuse and spat at the Russians. To avoid a riot, police entered the arena and shepherded the crowd away. One minute of the match remained.
Pictures of Zádor's injuries were published around the world, leading to the "Blood in the Water" moniker. Reports that the water in the pool turned red were, however, an exaggeration. Zádor said his only thought was whether he would be able to play the next match.
Hungary was declared the winner since they had been leading and then beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final to win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Zádor's injury would force him to miss the match. After the event was completed, he and some of his team-mates sought asylum in the West, rather than returning to live in a Hungary under a firmly pro-Soviet regime.
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In 2006, for the 50th anniversary of the attempted Hungarian Revolution, the documentary Freedom's Fury, produced by Kristine Lacey and Thor Halvorssen, told the story of the match. Quentin Tarantino described it as "the best untold story ever". The documentary was narrated by the legendary Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, who, as a teenager had been coached by Ervin Zádor.
Also in 2006, a feature film about the match was released, entitled Children of Glory (Hungarian title: Szabadság, szerelem, meaning "Freedom, love", after the lines of Sándor Petőfi, the martyred poet of the 1848–49 revolution). The movie shows the Hungarian Revolution through the eyes of a player on the water polo team and a girl who is one of the student leaders. It was directed by Krisztina Goda, and produced by Andrew G. Vajna. The movie appeared in Hungarian cinemas on 23 October 2006, the 50th anniversary of the revolution. On 29 October 2006, it was shown at the White House for President George W. Bush and guests (including Hungarian-American figures such as George Pataki, Governor of New York and George A. Olah, Nobel Prize winner).
The incident also features in the 1978 Australian film Newsfront.