Károly Takács, the One-Handed Olympic Sharpshooter

The 2016 Paralympic Games opened in spectacular fashion last night, which means it’s the perfect time to talk about an athlete that’s, for my money, one of the greatest in history.

Károly Takács, a sergeant in the Hungarian Army in the 1930s, was a world-class pistol shooter who dreams of competing in the 1940 Olympics were shattered in 1938. During army training, a faulty grenade exploded in his right hand, ruining it and leaving him unable to shoot.

But Takács refused to quit and came up with a frankly ridiculous plan to save his shooting career. So what if the hand he used to shoot with was ruined? He still had the other.

He’d already been denied a place at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin due to a Hungarian ruling that stated only commissioned officers were allowed to compete. Now it seemed to everyone who knew about his accident that his chances of competing in the Olympics were once again over.

But Takács was secretly practising with his weaker left hand, determined that he wouldn’t be stopped again. Maybe it was something they put in his army food, or an incredible resilience rarer than a dog who speaks Norwegian, but he wasn’t ready to retire yet. His country first learnt of his amazing determination in the spring of 1939, after he turned up to the Hungarian national pistol shooting championship. The other shooters thought he was there to spectate and were surprised just to see him.

Imagine their surprise, and the rest of the nation’s, when he won.

With that title under his belt and his left hand getting stronger, he was ready for the Olympics. Unfortunately, the Olympics weren’t quite ready for the outbreak of World War Two, and the 1940 and 1944 Games were forced to be cancelled.

Takács preparing his pistol in 1961 in the hopes of single-handedly ending the Cold War. Credit: Wkobylinski.

Bad luck once again seemed to smother Takács’ hopes. By the time London hosted the 1948 Olympics, he was almost 40 and considered past his prime. He’d be facing Argentina’s Carlos Enrique Díaz Sáenz Valiente, the reigning world champion and current favourite. After surprising his country, did he have it in him to surprise the world?

Of course. He not only won the gold medal, but also smashed the world and Olympic record with a grand total of 580 points. If that wasn’t unbelievable enough, he won a second gold four years later in Melbourne, beating off incredibly stiff competition where just four points separated 1st and 7th.

14 years had passed since he’d lost the use of his right hand, but even with everything life had thrown at him, he had two Olympic gold medals to show for it – a feat no marksman would overcome for over 50 years. Takács’ amazing story can provide inspiration and hope for the millions of people affected by disability, which is exactly the sort of message the Paralympics wants to celebrate.


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