Twenty-five years ago Hungary ruled international water polo with a zone type of play that put a premium on ball handling. In off-Olympic years the U.S. played different rules in what amounted to an entirely different game, a frothy, churning turmoil where finesse at manhandling counted for as much as ball handling. "After the '32 Games," Eagle McCarthy, an old American player, remembers, "we played the Hungarians half a game under their rules and they beat us. Then we played a half our way, and, heh, we murdered them." The American game died, and the Hungarians have been setting the pace ever since.
Rule changes after the 1948 Games, notably a change giving players freedom of movement after a foul, opened up the game, and Hungary was first to capitalize on the new freedom by stressing fast swimming as much as passing. At Melbourne Hungary is again favorite—a shaky favorite—in a field which, although it is small (12 entries in contrast to 21 at Helsinki), includes the traditional rivals, Italy, Yugoslavia and Germany, and two new threats, Russia and the U.S. The opposition may see something new from Hungary again this year. Last month Hungarian Coach Bela Rajki lifted the curtain on practice long enough to announce that his tactics this year would stress use of "the entire pool area." This prompted speculation that Hungary perhaps was adopting some sort of modified zone play or stressing an even longer passing game to capitalize on the good arms of veterans Deszo Gyarmat and Gyorgy Karpati. Coach Rajki then rang down the curtain with a confidential aside: "If this technique works, we will win. If not, then Yugoslavia, Russia, the United States and Italy can beat us."
The opposition may well have Hungary in a state of tactical desperation. The Hungarians have found the Russians stronger than expected this year; at the Naples tournament Hungary lost a game to Italy and later squeezed by Yugoslavia. The Italians and Yugoslavs have both stressed speed swimming, aiming to beat Hungary at its own fast game. The Europeans have an eye cocked for the U.S., a surprising fourth-place winner in 1952. The Americans have been raw but seldom slow, and in big Bob Hughes, a 1952 veteran, we have a good goal shooter and a fast man. However well he scores this year, Hughes already rates a bow. He is also the U.S. entry in the 200-meter breaststroke—the first man since Weissmuller to double up in swimming and polo at the Games.