Karoly Takacs, the Para athlete who achieved Olympic shooting glory

Hungarian made history with two gold medals in pistol shooting events at the London 1948 and the Helsinki 1952 Games 23 Jul 2021
Two pictures one showing the opening ceremony of the London 1948 Olympics and the other showing a man holding a pistol
Karoly Takacs made his Olympic debut at the London 1948 Games, the same year the Paralympic Movement was born in Stoke Mandeville
ⒸKeystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images and ALLSPORT
By World Shooting Para Sport

Shooting has been part of the Paralympics since Toronto 1976 but three decades earlier a Hungarian Para athlete was already making history in the sport. 

Karoly Takacs is a two-time Olympic pistol champion at London 1948 and Helsinki 1952. The first athlete with a disability to reach the podium in shooting at the Olympic Games.

Born in Budapest, Takacs had the chance to show his shooting talent while in the Hungarian Army during the 1930s. He hoped to represent the country at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but only higher ranking officials were allowed to compete.

That meant Takacs would have to wait until the next Games, scheduled for Tokyo in 1940 while working to progress in his career in the Army. However, two years after Berlin his life suffered a major change.

A deffective grenade explode in his right hand – his pistol hand – in a military exercise and could not be saved. While still recovering, Takacs started to practice in secret using his left hand.

World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics but Takacs qualified for the Hungarian Olympic Team for the 1948 Games in London. He was already a multi national champion in the rapid-fire pistol, 25 metres.

At 38, Takacs would finally realise the dream of representing his country. The favourite in his event was Argentina’s world champion and world record-holder Carlos Enrique Diaz Saenz Valiente, who is known to have asked Takacs why he was in London. The Hungarian shooter replied, “I’m here to learn.” 

Takacs won the gold medal breaking the world record with Diaz settling for silver. In the medal ceremony, the Argentine said, “you have learned enough.”

That same July 1948, while the Olympic Games were taking place in London, another British city organised the first competition for athletes with a disability planned by a German doctor called Ludwig Guttman. 

The Stoke Mandeville Games involved 16 injured servicemen and women who took part in archery and became a milestone in Paralympic history. Rome, Italy would host the first Paralympic Games in 1960.

By then, Takacs had already competed in three Olympic Games defending his title in Helsinki, Finland four years after London and finishing in eight place at Melbourne 1956 in Australia.

Takacs also won a bronze medal in the 25 metre centre-fire pistol at the 1958 ISSF World Championships in Moscow, Russia. After retiring from competitive shooting, he continued to work as a coach in Hungary. 

A national sporting hero, the shooting Para sport trailblazer passed away in 1976 in his hometown Budapest, aged 65.