István Gyulai was born on 21 March 1943 in Budapest. He lost his father when he was 1 year old, so he was left alone with his mother very early. She worked as a religion and piano teacher and raised his son rather strictly. His entire childhood was characterised by order and discipline – no wonder that he was a straight-A student during his school years. When he was 14, his P.E. teacher at the time could only get the swift young man to participate in an athletic training by threating him with the following words:
“If you don’t turn in your football equipment and come to run, I will make your school records worse!”
Following his secondary school years in Kossuth Lajos Secondary Grammar School in Budapest, he started his studies at the Faculty of Humanities of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) (1961) in Budapest. He graduated as a secondary school teacher of English and German languages in 1967, then he finished the journalism school of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ) in 1974.
“YOU ARE WORTH AS MANY PEOPLE AS MANY LANGUAGES YOU SPEAK.”
Gyulai had had a passion for foreign languages since his early childhood. According to his philosophy of life, you are worth as many people as many languages you speak. Beside curiosity and hard work, his very good command of foreign languages also helped him with acquiring English, German, Russian, French, Italian and Spanish languages.
After graduating from university he was working as a language teacher in the Economic Vocational School in the 13th district of Budapest for three years. Here, his student was, among others, Dezső Dobor, who he worked with at the Sports Department of Magyar Televízió (Hungarian television broadcasting corporation) later on.
THE 28-TIME HUNGARIAN CHAMPION
As the sprinter of Budapesti Honvéd, then BEAC sports clubs he became a Hungarian champion 28 times. He was member of the Hungarian national athletic team between 1961 and 1969.
With the 4×400 m relay he won a gold medal at the Universiade in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 1963 and a silver medal at the competition in Budapest in 1965. He also participated in the individual competition at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
TELEVISION CAREER FILLED WITH SPORTS
Predominantly, István Gyulai was a television programmer in the field of sports, however, he was occasionally requested by the department of entertainment programmes to participate in programmes because of his language knowledge as well as his good sense of humour and likeable personality. He hosted programmes not only in Hungarian, but also in English and German languages (e.g. the co-productions of ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) and MTV (Hungarian television broadcasting corporation)).
It was his students at the time and his first wife, Olga Kazi, a European Championships bronze medalist athlete who encouraged him to start his television career. He applied for the Hungarian talent contest ‘Pályabelépő’, which he also won – he was selected among his 3,141 rivals and was offered a job at Magyar Televízió.
In 1970 he became a journalist trainee in the chief editorial office of political programmes, where the sports presenters belonged to at that time. Less than a year later he was a fellow-worker at the television, then he started to work as a senior editor as of 1 October 1978 and as a columnist as of 1 August 1988. As of 1 February 1990 he became the deputy head of the independent editorial staff of the Sports Department, and he became its head on 1 March 1991.
1991 was the year of change in the life of Gyulai. He felt that he was at the height of his television career, and, although efforts were made to make him return to the screen or even be the head of MTV, he said goodbye to his eternal love. As of 20 May 1992 he went on an unpaid leave, and television was replaced with an even older love: athletics.
He retired on 21 March 2003, however, he remained member of the MTV staff until his death. He hosted hundreds of Telesport (sports programme of MTV) broadcasts. He gave unforgettable sports commentaries on figure skating and ice dance, gymnastics, athletics, boxing, table tennis and alpine skiing world competitions. He was present at all the Winter and Summer Olympics between 1972 and 2004: first as a commentator, then as a sports diplomat, finally he returned to television, as a result of which the spectators could experience sports history successes during the 2002 Winter Olympics through his voice.
His main television programmes:
• Veszély az utakon (Danger on the roads) (1975)
• Mindenki iskolája (School for everyone) (1975-1977)
• Mindent bele (Do your best) (1977)
• Ezt látni kell! (You must see this!) (1980)
• Hatvanhat (Sixty-six) (1981)
• Bécs-Budapest (Vienna-Budapest) (1981)
• Áll a vásár (1982)
• Balaton-Wolfgangsee (1983)
• Worthi-tó rózsája (Rose of Lake Worth) (1984)
• Würzburg rózsája (Rose of Würzburg) (1985)
• Szomszédolás (Neighbourhood) 1-4. (1985, 1987)
• Lignano rózsája (Rose of Lignano) (1986)
• 1st World Rubik Cube’s Championship (1982)
• Savaria’90 Budapest Light Symphony (1990)
• Csodavilág (Wonderland) (2002)
IN ALLIANCE WITH SPORTS
It is incredible how many fields the Hungarian athlete and television personality could cope with – among others, he is one of our most well-known and well-respected sports diplomats. He could understand every problem and realise any situation in a moment and was able to react to these immediately. He could express himself as precisely as not many in this country, or let alone, in the whole world. And wherever he went, he never forgot where he came from.
Between 1977 and 1989 he was deputy secretary general of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), and he became its secretary general in 1989. His outstanding workload is indicated by the fact that he also worked at the sports magazines International Sport and World Gymnastics as managing editor as of 1 January 1981.
He participated in the work of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) as of 1984 when he was elected to the council of IAAF, the supreme decision-making body instead of József Sír dr. During the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, the Italian Primo Nebiolo, president of the federation at that time requested him to take on the secretary general position of the organisation. He said yes on 16 November, and he first thought that he could perform his work as the secretary general of IAAF parallel to his work as a sports commentator. Soon he had to admit that he couldn’t have both as they required full attention. Although he commuted quite a lot between London and Budapest, he had to decide which one to choose. Athletics won.
During his years spent here he established good working relations with many of the world’s sports directors, and he had close contacts with well-known international sports diplomats like Juan-Antonio Samaranch, Jacques Rogge, Sergey Bubka or Lord Sebastian Coe.
Between 1991 and 2001 he was board member of the Hungarian Athletics Association, and he became its honorary president when he left the association.
István Gyulai was also elected to the members of the Hungarian Olympic Committee. Thanks to him and his outstanding sports diplomacy activities Hungary could host a number of world athletics competitions: 1994 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, 1998 European Athletics Championships, 2001 World Youth Championships in Athletics and 2004 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see the 2006 IAAF World Road Running Championships in Debrecen and the 2007 European Athletics U23 Championships in Debrecen, however, he took the lion’s share of the acquisition of the rights to host the events.
THE FAMILY MAN
It is no exaggeration to say that the most important people in the life of István Gyulai were his four children. For him it was the most important to see what direction the life of Miki, Kati, Marci and Julcsi would take. He loved all his children differently, but he never treated any of them differently. Once he said that all of them have at least one feature they inherited from him, and this is what made him proud. He was one of those exceptional persons who could be the strict father as well as the best friend of their children thanks to his incredible pedagogical sense, intelligence and consistency. Despite the fact that athletics took him away from them many times, he could not imagine not knowing about everything that happened in the life of his children.
He did not force his children to go in for athletics, still, his son Miklós became an outstanding athlete. Following the death of their father, Miklós, together with Marci, had the aim to revive Hungarian athletics, hereby paying tribute to the memory of their father.
He used the same, unique and incomprehensible method for raising his children and for treating his staff at work: he did not give orders, still, everybody did their job just as he expected them to do.
His personality and objective made a great impression on all his four children: all of them followed his footsteps – just in different fields of his life and work. For his son from his first marriage, Miki, it is athletics and his work as a sports commentator that mean life. His daughter Kati became a television editor. His relationship with them as a “Sunday dad” was not smooth at first, but his persistence and time helped settle the tensions. His child from his second and last marriage, Marci studied abroad, then he tried his hand in the world of bobsleigh following which, similarly to his elder brother, he found his way as a sports commentator and the head of the Hungarian Athletics Association. The youngest child, Julcsi devotes her life to arts. Today she has her own dance company, therefore her life is filled with a myriad of dance rehearsals and the organisation of international tours, however, she has the same persistence, hard-working attitude and tremendous strength of will that characterised her father, as well.
The greatest fear of István Gyulai, that his children will become distant from each other over the years when he is no longer with them, proved to be unfounded. Since the four of them know exactly that they can count on each other any time, because this is the most natural thing in the world.
István Gyulai passed away on 11 March 2006 after a long-term illness.