Thursday, August 18, 2016

Athlete and Architect

When Arnold Guttmann was 13 years old, his father drowned in the Danube River, and Arnold decided that he needed to learn how to swim. Six years later, after changing his name to Alfred Hajos (which is Hungarian for sailor), he won two gold medals at the very first Olympics in Athens. He came in first in both the 100 meter and the 1200 meter freestyle in races that were conducted in cold and choppy ocean waters.

Although swimming was the only sport in which Hajos competed in the Olympics, he won national tournaments in Track and Field (sprinting, hurdles and discus) as well. Additionally, Hajos was a member of Hungary’s national football team for several years, later serving as the team’s coach.

Hajos was able to meld his love of sports into his professional life. At the time of the first Olympics, Hajos was studying architecture at the Polytechnical University (where the dean was not particularly supportive of his frequent absences to compete!) As an architect, Hajos specialized in designing and building sports facilities. Some of the arenas that he built are still in use, as is the well-known Hotel Aranybika in Debrecen, Hungary.

Hajos’ architectural skills won him another Olympic medal in 1924. From 1912-1948, the Olympic Games included several artistic categories (architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture). All entries had to be inspired by sports. Hajos who partnered with Hungarian colleague Dezso Lauber, won a silver medal for a stadium design. It is interesting to note that no gold medal was awarded that year.

Imprisoned briefly in the Budapest ghetto during World War II, Hajos’ connections were able to keep him and his family safe from the Nazis. In 1953, the International Olympic Committee awarded him an Olympic diploma of merit. He passed away in 1955 in Budapest.

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