Foreign Sports Stars:  Zoltan Magyar

By Ferenc Toldi

Sport in the USSR, 1979   The gym was unusually quiet, with only a few gymnasts working out on the apparatus.  The Hungarian national squad was at a training camp, preparing for a tournament.  Zoltan Magyar had been freed from training because he had just taken his final exams at the College of Physical Education and was writing his diploma thesis.

What kind of topic was chosen by this gymnast who since 1973 has had no equals in the pommel horse at the Olympic Games, European and world championships, the World Cup competitions or the World Student Games?  He wrote his diploma thesis about the innovatory pommel program he presented in his first international tournament.

Pioneers often have a hard time.  Even more difficult than putting their ideas into practice is the job of elevating them to the level of a model.  And although Zoltan is a born pommel horse worker he and his coach, Laszlo Vigh, have found themselves stumped time and again.

After the reduced training load while taking college exams Zoltan has to work hard to regain his customary rhythm and make up for lost time.

"I keep telling myself I mustn't relax my training during my studies but afterward I take the line of least resistance," Zoltan admits.

Although Zoltan is a virtuoso on the pommel horse there is plenty of room for improvement in his work on the other apparatuses.  His score for the combined exercises is never high.  At the last world championships, in Strasbourg, he ranked only 12th overall.  But in a flawless display he received a score of 9.9 points twice and mounted the top step of the victory pedestal in the pommel horse exercise.  The runner-up, West Germany's Eberhard Gienger, was behind him by the substantial margin of 0.375 of a point.

Zoltan told me he thought Nikolai Andrianov of the Soviet Union was the world's best gymnast.  Nikolai Andrianov's performances were a riddle for him, he said.  "Nikolai doesn't have any weak spots.  His program in all the exercises is full of the most complicated elements logically interwoven into an interesting routine.  He doesn't compete often, preferring the quietness of the training gym.  Then he pops up at the Olympic Games or world championships, scores another victory, and afterwards becomes 'invisible' again."

Zoltan spoke with respect of his Soviet counterparts.  "Hard work is what we have to learn from our Soviet friends.  Their physical fitness is much better than ours.  I'd like to single out Kryssin, who presents a whole series of exceptional virtuoso elements and connecting links that are a genuine pleasure to watch."

The King of the Pommel Horse pays a lot of attention to his studies.  Theory of Sports Training is his favorite subject.  "It is largely thanks to my college work that I do not just approach gymnastics intuitively but painstakingly analyze the movements down to the minutest details."

Zoltan is a full-time student, and the college gives him time off to take part in competitions.  He does not abuse this freedom, though.  He feels he must work and study much more than those who do nothing but study.

No one knows how many more surprises the gymnastics world will see from Zoltan, now 25.  His famous pommel program has become a model which many gymnasts are imitating.  But past services, no matter how great, do not move the hearts of judges.  Zoltan knows he has to invent and perfect new ideas if he wants to stay on top.

"This season we intend to supplement the famous whirligig of 360 degrees with another 90 degree turn, making a total of 450 degrees," says Laszo Vigh, speaking about future plans.  "Another novelty will be a half-circle in the air to which we want to add 90 degrees."

Next on the current calendar are the European championships in May, followed by the USSR Summer Games in July, the World Student Games in Mexico and, at the end of the year, the world championships in Dallas, in the United States, and the World Cup tournament in Japan.

In short, Zoltan Magyar has plenty on his mind.  He realizes very well that his rivals are eager to topple him from his throne.  Good results in themselves are not enough for him.  He must always keep a bit ahead of what the other can do.  This explains why Zoltan is sometimes in a bad mood when, gritting his teeth, he repeats the same element on an apparatus time and again, polishing it to perfecting.  For example, a handstand on the horizontal bar, followed by a double backwards somersault with a landing on the soft mat beside the apparatus.

This page was created on April 13, 2001.
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