120 Years, 120 Stories (Part 3) : Alfred Hajos, the first swimming champion of the Olympic Games


He saw his father drowning in the Danube river in front of him. He was afraid at that time, but he did not stay away from water. Instead, he conquered it. You might call it a fluke, but we would say it determination which lead to success. He beat his biggest fear and became the best in the waters. Yes we are talking about Alfred Hajos – The first Olympic swimming champion.

He lost his father at the age of 13 when he drowned in the Danube river. Right at that moment he became determined to become a swimmer. Life was never easy for him. He had to change his real Jewish identity because of the social reasons. He also hid his real Jewish title Guttmann behind the surname Hajos.

The very first Olympic Games had only 3 swimming events: 100m, 500m and 1200m freestyles. He not only won 2 of the 3 events, but also became double champion on a single day.

Hajos won the 100 meter freestyle in 1:22.2 beating out the local favorite Chorophas. But weather was against him at that time. The Olympic organisers were not experienced enough and organised the event in the open waters. Temperature decreased down to 13 degree celsius in the Bay of Zea, the event location. All of the 9 participants were taken to the starting point on a boat and asked to swim back to the shores. There were no one to help them out in the cold water. According to Alfred Hajos

“I must say that I shivered from the thought of what would happen if I got a cramp from the cold water. My will to live completely overcame my desire to win”.

Shear mentality of a champion and a survivor helped Hajos to win the silver. Remember that there was no convention of awarding gold medals to the winners. Temperature increased as the day progressed and after a defeat in the 500m freestyle, Hajos bounced back to win the 1200m freestyle.

Not only he was a great swimmer, but also he excelled in other fields too. Alfred Hajos was a national champion in hurdles and discus. He represented the national football side and coached the Hungarian national side too.

Despite of being a champion of the first games, he did not participate in the Olympics till 1924. You must be thinking that after 28 long years, what was the thing he wanted at the age of 46? Well, he did not return to participate in swimming, rather it was Architecture.

Another surprise? Architecture was an arts competition of Olympics till 1948 and then it was removed due to some controversial decisions. Hajos excelled in architecture back in Hungary and won silver in the 1924 Olympic in architecture as they decided not to give gold in architecture. Actually, the Olympic sized swimming pool that we see these days, they were his idea. He designed many buildings and pools in Paris.

Alfred Hajos might had been a great architect, but he will always be remembered as the first swimming champion of Olympic. He was enlisted in the Swimming Hall of Fame due to his achievement in the pools.

Read about the first Champion of the Olympic Games here.

Photo by Swimireland