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Former Olympian who built Ripon swimming passes away

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POSTED May 4, 2012 1:23 a.m.

RIPON — The Ervan Zador Aquatic Center at Ripon High School will host a celebration of life Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. for 1956 Hungarian Olympic great of the same name who died Saturday at 77.

Connie Jorgensen of Ripon said it was coincidental that Ripon High won a Valley Oak League swimming title on the day of his death. 

Zador had founded the Ripon Aquatics and taught members of the Ripon Sea Lions from his home in Linden, becoming a legend in his own time in the Ripon community and among families of young swimmers.

The longtime swim coach made history through a bloody confrontation at a water polo match that pitted Hungarian swimmers against the Soviet Union in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. It was tagged as the “Blood in the Water” match.

He helped his team through the Olympics scoring twice and seeing his team gain a 4-0 lead, but he then sustained a large gash under his right eye from an assault that caused him to be sidelined after seeing his country invaded just weeks earlier by the Soviets.  Tension between the two teams over the military invasion resulted in a confrontation in the stands that brought an end to the match with only some 60 seconds left to play.

With Zador’s injury not allowing him to play in the final event, his team still went on to win the Olympic gold in a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia. 

Zador would later be featured in the documentary “Freedom’s Fury” in 2006 focusing on the Hungarian Revolution and centering on his Olympic’s water polo match some 50 years earlier.

Olympian Mark Spitz narrated “Freedom’s Fury” and had himself been coached by Zador as a youth.  Interviewed some five years ago, Zador said the Hungarian strategy in the 1956 match was to rile the Russian team members to a point that would cause them to make errors in their water polo match.

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