‘Blood in the Water’: The Cold War Olympic Showdown Between Hungary and the USSR

There are two layers to every water polo match: the graceful athleticism above the water, and the rough play and cheap shots hidden beneath the surface. The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were a lot like a game of water polo. On the surface, they were billed as the “friendly games,” but simmering below were deep Cold War hostilities.

No single event at the Melbourne summer games carried higher political stakes than the semifinal water polo match between Hungary and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Just weeks before the match, Soviet tanks and troops brutally crushed the short-lived Hungarian Revolution.

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