BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Tibor Benedek, a three-time Olympic water polo champion from Hungary who captained and later coached his country’s national team, has died. He was 47.
The death was announced by the Hungarian water polo federation on Thursday.
Benedek was a prolific scorer and won dozens of national and international titles with Hungary and club teams including Hungary’s UTE and Honved and Italy’s Roma and Pro Recco. He retired from all sporting activities in May because of an undisclosed illness.
Besides gold medals at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, Benedek also won a world championship in 2003, a European championship in 1997, two World League titles and a World Cup.
He also won the Italian championship seven times, the Hungarian championship six times, and was a five-time winner of the Euroleague, once with UTE and four times with Pro Recco.
In 1999, he was given an eight-month ban for doping, which ended in April 2000 and allowed him to make the national team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Despite struggling to regain his form in the early matches, Benedek scored four times in a 13-6 victory over Russia in the gold medal match.
As Hungary coach, his biggest success was winning the 2013 world championship.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban called Benedek “one of the greatest champions of Hungarian sports,” adding that “there is black water in the pool.”
Former Serbian water polo player Aleksandar Sapic, now a politician, described Benedek’s passing as “one of the saddest in recent years.”
“Tibor was the only water polo player whom I truly admired, whom I loved and respected in a strange way,” said Sapic, who won a silver and two bronze medals at the Olympics and played against Benedek dozens of times.
Sapic added he had followed Benedek’s career since he was 14 and looked up to him, watching tapes of Hungarian games just to see Benedek play.
“I watched over 400 of his games,” Sapic said. “I was fascinated by his determination, work, energy, discipline, strength and the ease with which he played our sport.”
Benedek was extremely popular in Hungary, known for his total dedication to the sport and unyielding willpower.
After listing a series of his traits which could be considered handicaps for a water polo player, including not being an overly good swimmer, nor especially strong or smart, Benedek put his achievements down to his iron will.
“If I had to finally summarize the reason for my successes, I’d just say that I was the one who always wanted it more,” Benedek said in “Sportalkimia,” a Hungarian book about sporting champions published in 2011. “This is my talent.”
Benedek played a record 437 times for Hungary, retiring after the 2008 Olympics, the federation said.
He is survived by his second wife, Hungarian model Panni Epres, and three children.
Associated Press writer Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.
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