Kazan 2015: With a pacemaker in the heart, water polo is an eternal love


The Happy Hippos were not so happy this morning. No, they are not real hippopotami, they are water polo players from Hungary, this is the name of their club, reminding the team members of the founding fathers who, well, got a little bit wilder and heavier once their heydays had been over, but still wanted to play their beloved game.

So, our heroic Hippos tried to score a big margin win against Volga 45 (RUS) in the 45+ age-group in the Masters water polo tournament but they had to settle for a 12-3 victory. This is something you always had in the good old days. Counting. Goal difference, semi-final pairings… Their biggest rival in the group, the St. Petersburg Masters won 17-6 against Volga on the opening day. Then the Hungarians drew 10-10 with the Russians, so goal difference seemed to be the decisive factor in reaching the top spot in the group.

By the way, that tied game was a brilliant match, a little bit tense, of course… But at least everyone could do what was the best in this sport: arguing with the referees.

Yes, this is where the good memories come back in full swing. Well, the speed of the shots are not the same… And only your chest can be seen above the water when you come out for a pass or to take a shot – not your nice, muscular stomach… (In fact it is you belly which mainly prevents you from lifting out from the water like a phoenix…) Of course, your speed is a bit slower… And in the good old times you could swim up and down even for an entire period – exchanging after 2-3 minutes is a kind of redemption today. But arguing with the refs – that IS the same. Offers the same pleasure as 20 years ago.

Of course, we had a couple of questionable calls this time as well – but the difference between the sides were visible, so it was a calm match, altogether. However, we witnessed a bit of sad hippos.

“You know, at this age you’d better take the easier road” Zsolt Urogi, one of the Happy Hippos explains. “Playing against Volga in the semis again would be ideal. An almost secure win, saving some energy… But we should have won with more goals. At the end we committed a couple of silly mistakes.”

Urogi had called it a day just two years ago, at the age of 43 – in the rich history of the Hungarian water polo he holds an astonishing record: he played 616 matches in the top division. In fact, he is still in good shape, he is one of the shooters of the Hippos as he still possesses almost everything to let the ball fly with a fine speed. His dedication to water polo can be measured by the fact that he even underwent a minor heart surgery.

“A special pacemaker was inserted, the professor said if I wanted to stay in the pool and play I needed that. It was no question that I went to the hospital.”

The other top-scorer is Andras Bene, who is as lean as he was in his prime when he played in three straight Champions League finals between 1994 and 1996. “Well, our play is a bit of reminiscent of real water polo” he says. “But you have to see the 40+ Russians: Kolotov, Zinnurov, Maximov, Zakirov… Boy, those guys still play awesome. The older ones? In 50+ it’s so-so… Above 60, it’s the battle of buoys as the saying goes… Three in this end, three at the other, swimming is spared for most of the time…

But anyway, they are there. And play their beloved game.

Ah, forgot to mention: surprisingly, the Sportuliror Imperial from Romania beat the St. Petersburg team in the following match 12-10, thus the Magyars will have another match with the Volga 45 team in the semis, they can take the easier road as desired (1-4, 2-3 is playing order in the playoffs, as four sides play in this age group).

At the end of the day, the Hippos were happy.