Host City: Melbourne, Australia
Venue(s): Olympic Park Swimming and Diving Stadium, Melbourne, Victoria
Date Started: November 28, 1956
Date Finished: December 7, 1956
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to the round-robin final pool.
The 1956 Olympics started on 22 November in Melbourne. Eighteen days before they started, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in response to a student-led revolution that had started on 23 October. The revolt spread quickly and the government fell, which led the USSR to send in 200,000 troops. By 10 November the Soviets had put down the revolution, installing their own puppet government, killing thousands of Hungarians, with over 200,000 fleeing the country. In response to Soviet actions, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands boycotted the Melbourne Olympics, with the Dutch water polo team sorely missed as they had placed fourth at the 1954 Europeans. Hungary competed in Melbourne, but many of their athletes would defect, often later competing for other nations. Nowhere was the conflict between the two nations seen more clearly at the Olympics than in the water polo pool.
Hungary had won the last two Olympic gold medals and was considered the top side in the world. They advanced to the final round, along with Yugoslavia, Italy, and the Soviets. On 6 December Hungary and the Soviet Union met in a water polo match that reverberated throughout the world. The water was crimson as Hungary attacked the Soviet players, who likewise retaliated. One famous picture shown on wire services was of Hungarian player Ervin Zádor, his head cut, with blood streaming down his face as he stepped out of the pool. The match had to be stopped by the referee before the end of the regular time, with Hungary leading 4-0. They would go undefeated in Melbourne in 1956 and win the gold medal, the Soviets taking bronze, behind Yugoslavia. But Hungary won something greater, their dignity, having refused to bow to totalitarian pressure from the USSR.