One country celebrated Seoul Games heroes, including Zsolt Gyulay, who returned from South Korea with two gold medals. This rowing boy was already a fan of the Olympic movement, and his fire did not go out during his career: as a champion, he wanted to do more for Hungarian sports. Since January, he has been able to do this as President of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, operating with the same humility, faith and work ethic as before as an athlete on the water.
|As champion, Zsolt Gyulay wanted to do more for Hungarian sport (Photo: Attila Török)|
– This year is certainly special, as he was elected President of the Hungarian Olympic Committee. How has your life changed?
– The past 12 years have not been easy, managing the Hungaroring Sport Zrt. It’s a big challenge. At the moment, my job and my role as president is a social undertaking that takes much longer than I previously thought – but this does not come from nature, but from myself: my heart is the Olympic movement, I grew up in it, so I am not able to handle everything.
Do you feel close to the Olympics because you grew up in them, or do you feel a responsibility as an Olympic champion to do something about it?
– the last one. In the 1990s, when the sport could hardly “follow” the regime change, when it was in a state of decline and was looking for its place, we also tried to make our voices heard. I’ve always had an opinion, and I felt like I had to say that like a hero.
– If anyone is, you know exactly how much the world and the state of sports have changed.
“Everything we dreamed of can now be achieved, the change is amazing.” We can do a lot of things today. I will never forget that in the 1991 World Championships the Spanish duo won the K–2 championship, and their coach was Uncle Gyula Fuzesiri. In the K-1 Five Hundred, where I came in third, the winner was Imre Kimiki of Canada, and the runner-up was Zoltan Paco – I remember how frustrating that was for all of us. It was bad to live with them abroad to work and prepare our opponents.
“It’s just a sport.”
– What’s more, these were just races for me… The direction was bad, and it was bad for our coaches to work abroad. I thought about it many times, wondering how they could be returned, and as a successful competitor I expressed my opinion – I also tried to influence sports politics.
– This year also brought a similar story, only with the opposite sign. We know your official opinion, but how do you feel about the change of short track speed skating brothers Liu Shaolin and Liu Shao’an?
– I know there are some who see this as a tragedy and a betrayal, but I can take it calmly, and I really think we should be happy that they’ve been here so far and that they’ve competed in galactic colours. The Hungarian Olympic Movement and the Hungarian National Ski Association owe much to the two brothers. It would certainly be bad to see them represent another country on the ice, but we have to look forward: there are many talented young men in the short track, and we have to help them.
– Staying with boys and sports: As the head of MOB, he was able to experience successes in Beijing for the first time. As a former Summer Olympics sports fan, how did you view the Winter Games?
– It was cold … Although the size and number of workers in the Winter Olympics is smaller compared to the summer, the atmosphere is the same. Beijing has also been in the air, even if there are strict regulations in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Until now, I believed that the most wonderful event in the world was the Olympic Games, and this was only reinforced in Beijing.
– And there is another Olympiad right here, the Summer Games will be held in Paris in 2024. How much, how much should the head of MOB expect, when there is so much to do on a daily basis?
– My term lasts until the 2024 Paris Olympics, but we have to look forward to 2028, when we really have to take care of everything else, for example, preserving traditions and restoring the prestige of the Hungarian Olympic Committee.
“You never get tired?”
“I don’t have time for that.” It’s as if I put my head down and worked through the winter-spring prep period. I come from a sport where if you miss two weeks, you actually come back. I have come to realize that this is not a phase of my life where I can relax. It is not up to the Hungarian Olympic Committee how many stakes we get for the Paris Olympics, as the work is done in federations, associations and workshops, but it is up to us to build a supportive environment around them that helps them.
– The past is binding, but why do you think we are so successful at the Olympics?
– Our Olympic Committee was the sixth in the world to be created, Sport has a great tradition in Hungary, and the Olympics are permeated with a kind of feeling – We thirst for success, as our country has suffered enough in the past hundred years. We need it to feel the joy of the winners, it always affects people, which also motivates the athletes. I still go through this now: Wherever I go, I’m still a kayaker, so many people come up to me, congratulate me, and tell me they cried when I stood on top of the podium at the Seoul Olympics.
|Zsolt Gyulay has chaired the Hungarian Olympic Committee since January (Photo: Atilla Turok)|
– It would be a very casual request for you to tell us what you felt there, on top of the podium … Would you rather tell us if there was a Hungarian Olympic victory that particularly touched you?
– I was most impressed by Áron Szilágy’s victory in Tokyo. I couldn’t defend my title in Barcelona, I was 24th off, but Áron was able to do it twice. The fact that he was able to win three consecutive singles swords really touched me. He understood that there was someone who, though the ups and downs between the Olympics were not spared, still managed to pick himself up, moreover, in a sport where one wrong move is enough to knock you out of the game.
– It’s good that the MOB boss has such an athlete in his team …
– And I could also list those who won the Olympic Games, but remained modest. I could mention Krisztián Berki, who does a very good job in the Gymnastics Association, or Dániel Gyurta, who travels the country and the world, promoting the Olympic Movement.
– We have champions who are not satisfied with winning at some point.
– We receive an annuity for life that provides security for our Olympic results, and it is our duty to do more for Hungarian sport even after our career.
“A lot of people say, but are the heroes really connected by some kind of invisible bond?”
– One of the most important tasks of the Hungarian Olympic Committee is precisely to keep the participants of the Olympic movement together: we encourage our members to be active, we pay attention to everyone, for example, those Olympians who have difficulty reaching. Our community has always held together, cherished the Olympic idea, and yes, there is a bond between us — for those who’ve won the same Olympics, that’s even more true.
– Can the Olympic tournament help you in everyday life? If you summarize, when you’re in a difficult situation, do you bounce back on your victory?
– I suppressed it in myself for a long time because I did not think that I should live from my victory at Seoul; I believed in taking my place in civilian life even without it. But when I got frustrated, when I had difficult moments, I would sometimes re-watch the final or think again: I put myself out there, I still know something! He said first that he does not ask me how I felt at the top of the podium, although I remember it very clearly: I knew that something big had happened, but I was glad that I had reached the top of my career. I managed to be the best in the world at that moment. I also knew that the Olympic title was worth a lot, but I also knew that world glory would pass one day.
“Are you seriously saying that you actually thought about this matter in Seoul?”
“yes.” When we won the quad after the singles, we celebrated. I went to the garage and saw the canoeing pair Sarosi and Vascotti, they finished sixth in the C-2 with 500 metres. They just opened a small bottle of champagne and said goodbye – they passed the end of a career that ended in failure. I knew even then that he would get to me too. And that’s what happened.
“yes.” Saddened, the Kolonics and Horváth duo celebrated. The same thing happened to me as it did in Seoul, I was just on the other side. But that’s the order of the world, I think both times I was able to calmly live in the moment and see my situation realistically.
Will you have time to rest during the holidays?
“I really want him, I want him.” My third grandson was born five months ago, the other two are already three years old, and I want to spend more time with them.
– What kind of grandfather is Zsolt Gyulay?
– I really prepared for Grandpa, but there was no doubt that I would have a lot to do now … I feel guilty about this, because although we live so close to each other – that is, we have daily contact – I could not be with them for a while longer than time. I would like to pay a little.
“Do you usually make New Year’s resolutions?”
“Every evening I summarize my day and my tasks.” We can call this a petition, a prayer, a plan, or even a covenant. You can’t live without goals, and I also realized that our life is best done within a framework – as long as I have these tasks, they should be that way.