Hajós was born in Budapest, Hungary, as Arnold Guttmann. He was 13 years old when he felt compelled to become a good swimmer after his father drowned in the Danube River. He took the name Hajós (sailor in Hungarian) for his athletic career because it was a Hungarian name.
In 1896, Hajós was an architecture student in Hungary when the Athens Games took place. He was allowed to compete, but permission from the university to miss class was difficult to obtain. When he returned to the Dean of the Polytechnical University, the dean did not congratulate Hajós on his Olympic success, but instead said: "Your medals are of no interest to me, but I am eager to hear your replies in your next examination."
Athletic Career Highlights
- At the 1896 Olympic Games, the swimming events were held in the Mediterranean Sea battling the elements. The 18-year-old Hajós won his two gold medals in extremely cold weather (the water temperature was about 55°F or 13°C) with 12-foot (4 meter) waves. He won the 100m freestyle with a time of 1:22.2, and the 1,200m freestyle in 18:22.1. Hajós wanted to win all three distances, but the 500m freestyle was immediately after the 100 and immediately before the 1,200. Before the 1,200m race, he smeared his body with a 1 cm thick layer of grease, but it proved to be of little protection against the cold. He confessed after winning the race that, "My will to live completely overcame my desire to win." While at a dinner honoring Olympic winners, the Crown Prince of Greece asked Hajós where he had learned to swim so well. Hajós replied, "In the water." The next morning, the Athenian journal Acropolis depicted Alfréd with the subtitle: "Hungarian Dolphin". He was the youngest winner in Athens.
- Prior to the Athens Olympics, Hajós was the 100m freestyle European swimming champion in 1895 and 1896.
- A versatile athlete, he won Hungary's 100m sprint championship in 1898, as well as the National 400m hurdles and discus titles. He also played forward on Hungary's national soccer championship teams of 1901, 1902, 1903 — and played in the first international match played by the Hungarian national team, against Austria in Vienna on 12 October 1902. Between 1897 and 1904 he was also a football referee, and during 1906 he was the coach of Hungary's national football team.
- In 1924, Hajós, an architect specializing in sport facilities, entered the art competitions at the Paris Olympic Games. His plan for a stadium, devised together with Dezső Lauber (who played tennis in the 1908 Summer Olympics), was awarded the silver medal; the jury did not award a gold medal in the competition. Thus making him one of only two Olympians ever to have won medals in both sport and art Olympic competitions.
- The best known sports facility designed by Hajós is the swimming stadion built on Margitsziget (Margaret Island) in the Danube in Budapest, which was built in 1930, and used for the 1958, 2006 and 2010 European Aquatics Championships, and the 2006 FINA Men's Water Polo World Cup.
- In 1953, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Olympic diploma of merit.
- He is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
- In 1981, he was made a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame..
Nearly 20,000 spectators lined the Bay of Zea off the Piraeus coast watched 18-year-old Hajós win 100m freestyle in 1:22.2 and the 1200m freestyle in 18:22.1 in rough 55°F (13°C) water. Hajós later became one of only two Olympians to win a medal in both the athletic and artistic competitions, when he won a silver medal for architecture in 1924.
Greatest Watermen in Open Water Swimming History
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2. Antonio Argüelles Díaz-González (Mexico): Triathlete, ultra-endurance athlete, channel swimmer and author
3. Stathis Avramidis, Ph.D. (Greece): Researcher, swimmer, author, speaker, and lecturer
4. Peter Bales (South Africa): Channel swimmer, marathon swimmer, governing body administrator and escort pilot
5. Vito Bialla (U.S.A.): Extreme relay swimmer, professional sailor, and escort pilot of the Farallon Islands, California
6. Paul Blackbeard (South Africa): World-class pool swimmer, ocean swimmer, and life saver
7. Lord Byron (Great Britain): Poet, author and pioneering sea swimmer
8. Dick Campion (Australia): Olympian, coach, trainer, author, promoter, and professional marathon swimmer
9. Daniel Eulogio Carpio Massioti (Peru): Four-time Olympian, Channel swimmer, professional racer, and solo swimmer
10. Bruckner Chase (U.S.A.): marathon swimmer, ocean advocate, ambassador to the disabled, filmmaker, paddler and surf lifesaver
11. Buster Crabbe (U.S.A.): Olympic champion, ice swimmer, promoter, and movie star of 3 pulp fiction heroes
12. Guy Delage (France): Ocean swimmer, extreme adventurer, diver, submariner, and sailor
13. Marcos Díaz (Dominican Republic): Marathon racer, extreme swimmer, surfer, governing body administrator, and event director
14. Shannon Eckstein (Australia): Ironman lifesaver, paddler, kayaker, surf skier and ocean swimmer
15. Ian Emberson (Kauai, U.S.A.): Channel swimmer, original Ironman triathlete, ocean swimmer, event director, and triathlete
16. George Freeth (Hawai, U.S.A.): Ocean swimmer, surfer, paddler, and lifesaver organizer
17. Alfréd Hajós (Hungary): Olympic champion, professional racer, and architect
18. Trevor Hendy (Australia): Ironman lifesaver, paddler, kayaker, surf skier and ocean swimmer
19. Colin Hill (Great Britain): Ice swimmer, Channel swimmer, television commentator, and event director
20. Craig Hummer (U.S.A.): Competitive swimmer, kayaker, paddler, Ironman lifesaver, and Olympic television commentator
21. Ky Hurst (Australia): Ocean swimmer, two-time Olympian, body surfer extraordinaire, and champion life saver
22. Zhang Jian (China): Marathon swimmer, Channel swimmer, ice swimmer and university sports director
23. Captain Tim Johnson (U.S.A.): Marathon swimmer, author, professor, shark cage designer, analyst, and historian
24. Duke Kahanamoku (Hawaii): Ocean swimmer, Olympic champion, surfing legend and ambassador of aloha
25. Grant Kenny (Australia): Ironman lifesaver, paddler, kayaker, surf skier and ocean swimmer
26. Guy Leech (Australia): Ironman lifesaver, paddler, kayaker, surf skier and ocean swimmer
27. Luiz Eduardo Carneiro da Silva de Souza Lima (Brazil): Two-time Olympian, stand-up paddler, ocean swimming coach, pioneering ocean swimmer and promoter
28. Pádraig Mallon (Ireland): Marathon swimmer, Channel swimmer, ice swimmer, event organizer, promoter and triathlete
29. Vojislav Mijić (Serbia): Marathon swimmer, professional racer, solo pioneer and event organizer
30. Masayuki Moriya (Japan): Coach, channel swimmer, event organizer, clinician, and governing body administrator
31. Keo Nakama (Hawaii/U.S.A.): World champion, world record holder, pioneering ocean swimmer, event organizer and coach
32. Aaron Peirsol (U.S.A.): 7-time Olympic medalist, surfer, lifeguard, coach, and body surfer extraordinaire
33. Lewis Pugh (Great Britain): Channel swimmer, marathon swimmer, ocean advocate, ambassador, author, and speaker
34. Kevin Richards (South Africa): Competitive swimmer, triathlete, surf lifesaver, and coach
35. Philip Rush (New Zealand): Channel swimmer, marathon swimmer, professional racer, escort pilot, channel administrator, and fire fighter
36. Wayne Riddin (South Africa): Competitive swimmer, race director, aquapreneur, coach and promoter
37. Veljko Rogošić (Croatia): Two-time Olympic swimmer, professional racer, solo pioneer, swimming ambassador and marathon swimmer
38. Kenny Rust (Hawaii, U.S.A.): Ocean swimmer, lifeguard, aquapreneur, and event safety official
39. Ori Sela (Israel): Sea swimmer, coach, therapist, pioneer relay swimmer and aquapreneur
40. Borut Strel (Slovenia): Coach, swimmer, clinician, planner and logistic expert
41. Martin Strel (Slovenia): Channel swimmer, marathon swimmer, extreme adventurer, film protagonist, and camp clinician
42. Georgios-Ioannis Tsianos, M.D., Ph.D. (Greece): Research scientist, physician, expedition medic and Channel swimmer
43. Christof Wandratsch (Germany): Channel swimmer, professional racer, solo pioneer, ice swimming record holder and event promoter
44. Captain Matthew Webb (Great Britain): Channel swimmer, extreme adventurer, and professional racer
45. Johnny Weissmuller (U.S.A.): 4-time Olympic champion and movie star with a household name
46. Alick Wickham (Solomon Islands): Ocean swimmer, high diver, body surfing promoter, surfboard shaper, and freestyle ambassador
47. Patrick Winkler (Brazil): Competitive swimmer, ocean swimmer, stand-up paddler, race promoter and publisher of The Swim Channel Magazine
48. Jabez Wolffe (Great Britain): Channel aspirant and coach in the early generations of channel swimming
49. Doug Woodring (Hong Kong/U.S.A.): Marine environment ambassador, ecology advocate, aquapreneur, ocean event director, paddler, diver, and ocean swimmer
50. David Yudovin (U.S.A.): Channel swimmer, marathon swimmer, aquapreneur, benefactor and mariner