Zoltán Halmay

Biographical information

Medals OG IG
Gold 2 1
Silver 4 1
Bronze 1 0
Total 7 2
TypeCompeted in Olympic Games, Competed in Intercalated Games
Full nameZoltán Imre Ödön•Halmay
Used nameZoltán•Halmay
Other namesZoltan Emericus Ödön Halmaj
Born18 June 1881 in Vysoká pri Morave (SVK)
Died20 May 1956 in Budapest (HUN)
Measurements187 cm / 83 kg
AffiliationsMUE, (HUN) / MTK, Budapest (HUN)
NOC Hungary


Zoltán Halmay was the first great swimmer from Continental Europe, winning nine Olympic medals (three gold, five silver, one bronze) between 1900 and 1908 at distances ranging from 50 yds to 4000 m. His gold medals came in the 50 and 100 yds freestyle in 1904 and the 4 x 250 m relay in 1906. His 1904 50 yds freestyle victory came in a second race after the judges declared a dead heat in the first race between Halmay and J. Scott Leary of the United States. What is more remarkable, is that although Halmay swam mostly with his arms, without any leg movements, he still beat the strong Americans, who used their legs while swimming and thus had a more efficient style. In both his 1904 gold medals, he beat young Charlie Daniels, who went on to be the most dominant swimmer of the decade and who invented the “American crawl” that is the basis of modern freestyle swimming.

In 1905 Halmay set what is considered the inaugural record for the 100 m freestyle, recording 1:05.8, which stood until the 1908 Olympics, where Daniels surpassed it by 0.2 seconds, a remarkable length of time during a period of rapid development in the sport. Halmay set his second world record in 1908, just three weeks before the 1908 Olympics, when he swam the 200 m freestyle in 2:26.8, bettering Fred Lane’s 6-year old record by nearly 2 seconds. Halmay won 15 Hungarian titles – 100 yds freestyle in 1899, 1901-04, 1906, and 1907; 110 yds freestyle in 1908; 220 yds freestyle in 1906-08; 440 yds freestyle in 1905 and 1907; and 1 mile freestyle in 1897 and 1899. He also won English, German and Austrian championships.

Halmay took up competitive swimming in 1896 and competed until 1910. Besides swimming he played football and water polo and did track & field athletics and rowing. He was also Hungarian national roller-skating champion over 5000 m. From 1910-19 Halmay worked as a journalist with the Hungarian sports paper Vadász és Versenylap and from 1919-28 was manager of the Hungarian national swimming team. He then worked with the Hungarian Royal Tobacco Monopoly, first as an office worker and then as a director. From 1937 until his 1945 retirement, Halmay worked as a director of a Budapest rubber-textile factory.

Personal Bests: 100 m freestyle – 1:06.2 (1908); 200 m freestyle – 2:26.8 (1908).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1900 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) HUN Zoltán Halmay
200 metres Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 2 Silver
1,000 metres Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 3 Bronze
4,000 metres Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 2 Silver
1904 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) HUN Zoltán Halmay
50 yards Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
100 yards Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
220 yards Freestyle, Men (Olympic) DNS
440 yards Freestyle, Men (Olympic) DNS
880 yards Freestyle, Men (Olympic) DNS
1906 Intercalated Games Swimming (Aquatics) HUN Zoltán Halmay
100 metres Freestyle, Men (Intercalated) 2 Silver
400 metres Freestyle, Men (Intercalated) DNS
4 × 250 metres Freestyle Relay, Men (Intercalated) Hungary 1 Gold
1908 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) HUN Zoltán Halmay
100 metres Freestyle, Men (Olympic) 2 Silver
400 metres Freestyle, Men (Olympic) DNS
4 × 200 metres Freestyle Relay, Men (Olympic) Hungary 2 Silver

Special Notes


Place of birth also seen as Dúbrava, Vysoká pri Morave. His surname is often seen as von Halmay, but there is no evidence in the Hungarian sources that he was titled nobility.