The Beginning

István Gyulai was born on 21 March 1943 in Budapest. He lost his father when he was only 1 year old, so soon he was left all alone with his mother, who was catechist and a piano teacher. His childhood revolved around order and discipline – not surprisingly he was a straight A student. At the age of 14 the only way his P.E. teacher could convince him to start running instead of playing football was to threaten him:

“If you do not stop playing football and start running, I am going to ruin your grades!”

After graduating from Lajos Kossuth High School in Budapest (1961) he went on to study English and German at the ELTE University where he received his BA as a teacher in 1967 and seven years later also got a degree in journalism.

"The more languages you speak,
the more persons you are worth.”

Ever since his childhood Gyulai was fascinated by languages. His philosophy was that the more languages you speak the more persons you are worth. Luckily for him it was not just his curiosity and passion but also his natural ability to learn languages which allowed him to be fluent in English, German, Russian, French, Italian and Spanish over the years.

Following his degree from the University, he worked as a high school teacher in the 13th district in Budapest and was very popular among his students. One in particular, Dezső Dobor even became his colleague a few years later at the Hungarian Television.

28 x Hungarian Champion

Running for Budapesti Honvéd and BEAC, two of the most prestigious clubs at the time he won 28 Hungarian national titles and was a constant member of the national team between 1961 and 1969. He was a gold medallist at the World University Games in Porto Alegre, Brazil (1963), won silver two years later in Budapest and also competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A career on television,
yet full of sports

Gyulai was the first of 3142 competitors to be offered a job by the Hungarian Television following a talent identification competition in 1970 that he unwillingly participated in as a result of the constant persuasion of his first wife – also an international athlete, Olga Kazi – and his students. In November 1970 he was admitted as an intern to the sports department of the news section but less than half-a-year later he was already a full time employee. In 1978 he moved up again in the ranks, in 1988 he was put in charge as the deputy of the sports department and in 1990 he was name as the head of the sports department at the Hungarian Television.

István Gyulai was primarily a reporter who lead sports programs but quite often he was chosen to be the anchor in other cultural shows on television which was primarily a result of his outstanding knowledge of languages as well as his sense of humour. Between 1977 and 1989 he was the deputy General Secretary of the AIPS, and from 1989 the General Secretary. From 1981 he edited the magazine International Sport and World Gymnastics and was elected vice-president of the Hungarian Athletics Association in 1991, where he was also elected Honorary President in 2001.

In 1984 he was elected into the Council of the IAAF. Following the Tokyo World Championships in 1991, President Primo Nebiolo asked him to take over as the General Secretary of the IAAF, which at first he thought was possible to do besides running the sports department of the Hungarian Television. Soon he discovered he had to chose between the two and opted for the IAAF although never officially quit Hungarian Television, just went “on vacation without pay”.  In 2003 he retired from the Television although still appeared in some shows later. Several of his commentaries are among the all time greats in the archives of MTV, including events figure skating, gymnastics, athletics, boxing, table tennis, skiing and even fencing. He commentated on all the winter and summer Olympics between 1972 and 2004 and occasionally even hosted shows in German and English.

He had an ability to immediately understand a problem and had a solution in mind within a fraction of a second. Even to this very day only very few could communicate their thoughts the way he did. It was undoubtedly for these reasons among many that he was chose to lead the biggest association in the world and was one of the most recognized and popular leaders of his time. Wherever life took him, he never forgot where he had started from.

United with sports

He was one of the most popular and most recognized sports leaders of Hungary, the General Secretary of the AIPS and the IAAF.

Gyulai participated in the work of the IAAF from 1984 before being asked to take over as General Secretary in 1991. At the same time he was given an important role to play in the Hungarian Association, first elected as a Vice-President, later promoted to Honorary President in his homeland. Gyulai was also elected into the Hungarian Olympic Committee and played vital roles in winning the rights to host a whole string of international sporting events including World- and European Indoor Championships, World Cross Country Championships, European Championships, World Youth and European Junior Championships as well as World Road Running and U23 European Championships.

During his long years at the IAAF he established a very close working relationship with the two presidents he had served, Dr. Primo Nebiolo and Lamine Diack, as well as other sports leaders at the time such as Juan-Antonio Samaranch, Jacques Rogge, Sergey Bubka or Lord Sebastian Coe.

The father

It is safe to say that the most important part of Istvan Gyulai’s life were his four children. For him the question was always how the lives of Miki, Kati, Marci and Julcsi would turn out, how could he make it even better for them. He loved them all in a different way. Once Gyulai even admitted that all four of them had a different habit they inherited from him and was very proud of that. Gyulai was a man with a natural sense of teaching, intelligence and coherence, which allowed him to play the role of the strictest of fathers yet be the best friend at the same time. Even though his work meant a 24/7 commitment it was unimaginable that he would not know of everything that happened in the lives of his children.

He never forced his children to be involved in sports or athletics in particular. Despite of this Miklós became a national record holder in the 60m and made it to the finals of the 4x100m in Seville 1999 and with his brother Márton overtook the leadership of the Hungarian Athletics Association following Gyulai’s death in 2006.

As a father he chose the same path that he practiced in his everyday work; he never ordered people to do as he said, nevertheless everybody followed his expectations and pieces naturally fell into their respective places. His personality left a mark in all his children as all four of them represent his legacy on their own. From his first marriage, Miklos is the athlete in the family as well as the reporter, while Kati is the editor for television channels. His relationship with them following the divorce and having to play the role of “Sunday Father” was at first difficult, but over the years his coherence proved him right. From his second marriage Marton spent several years studying abroad before competing in bobsleigh, then went on to follow in the footsteps of his brother, first as a sports commentator and then became a leader of the Hungarian Athletics Association. Julia, the youngest one, is the artist in the family, but her sense of commitment, strong will and vision is certainly that of her father’s.

Gyulai’s biggest fear in life about the relationship of his children once he is no longer around has proved to be completely fictitious; they do not only work together but spend their free times together at home or abroad as the family they always were and will always be.