The year was 1936. Berlin Olympics was just round the corner. Karoly Takacs fancied his chances of doing well in the Games. A sergeant in the Hungarian Army, he was already a world class pistol shooter. But then came crushing disappointment. Takacs was not selected for his country’s shooting team.
The reason? Only commissioned officers were allowed to compete, so his lowly army rank went against him. The bar was lifted only after the Games. Targeting the 1940 Olympics now, Takacs began practising hard. Then fate took another turn.
Out on an army training drill, a faulty grede blew off Takacs’ right hand. It happened to be his shooting arm. A promising sports career seemed well and truly over.
For a month, Takacs lay in hospital. The outlook could not have been bleaker. A lesser man would have contemplated bitterly on such a loss, would have asked himself repeatedly ‘Why me?’. After such a devastating blow, it would have been tural to quit and get on with life.
But for Takacs, there could be no life without shooting. So he picked himself up and decided to focus on what remained. His eye was unerring, his nerves rock-steady as ever. And surely the shooting skills he had acquired over many a year of relentless practice, were with him still!
Takacs was not left-handed, but now his left hand will have to do. He began shooting in secret. Why? Maybe he didn’t want people, even well-wishers, to put him down. Dreams can sometimes grow fragile, and must be safeguarded quietly like a sacred flame...
A year later in the spring of 1939, Takacs showed up at the Hungarian tiol pistol shooting championship. Other shooters congratulated him on having the spirit to come and watch them shoot. They were flabbergasted when he replied that he was not there as a spectator, but as a competitor. Their shock was greater when Takacs won the tourment.
That year itself the Second World War began. The Olympic ideals of friendship and peace, of solidarity and fair play seemed far, far away. In the bloodbath that spread across continents, the Olympic Games scheduled for 1940 and 1944 were washed away. It would take six long years for the nightmare to end.
In a world painfully picking up the pieces, came the 1948 London Olympics as a gust of fresh year. Among the competitors was Karoly Takacs, now an army veteran 38 years old. At the 25m rapid fire pistol event, he was lined up against the reigning world champion, Argentinian shooter Carlos Enrique Valiente. Shattering the world record, Takacs took the gold.
And then four years later at the 1952 Helsinki Games, Takacs defended his crown. He thus became the first shooter ever to win two successive Olympic golds in that event. The legend of a great Olympian was born, one who personified the never-say-die spirit of the true sportsman.
Takacs would go on to end his army career as a lieutent colonel and become a successful coach. He was still around at the 1958 ISSF World Shooting Championships, grabbing a bronze in another event, the 25 metre center-fire pistol. Overall, he won 35 Hungarian tiol shooting championships. To this day, he is revered in his country as a tiol hero.
Retelling Karoly Takacs’ story in his book ‘The Habit of Winning’, Prakash Iyer says: “Winning a gold medal in Olympics is less about the hand, more about the mind. Life is like that. Winning is less about skills, more about attitude.”