Gyorgy Kolonics, Sprint Canoer, 1972-2008

I recently came across the story of Olympic canoer, Gyorgy Kolonics and I thought I’d share the ir with you here. I’ve written previously about the importance of bystander CPR and availability of AED’s at sporting events. We can’t rewrite history, but we might wonder if the outcome might have been different if an AED had been available for Gyorgy Kolonics.
Kolonics was a sprint canoer from Hungary who had reached the top of his sport by the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where he finished 5th and 7th in the C-2 500 m and 1000 m events. In the following several years, he would go on to win a total of 11 world championships gold medals. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he won a gold and a silver medal in the C-2 events. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he won a gold medal in the 500 m C-1 event and at the 2004 Athens Olympics he won a bronze medal in the 1000 m C-2 event.
Kolonics died in his mid-30’s on July 15, 2008 in Budapest, Hungary, while he was on the water training. He collapsed suddenly and was taken to shore, where his coach and teammates tried to resuscitate him. No AED was available. Accounts of his death estimate that an ambulance arrived on the scene nearly 40 minutes after he collapsed and there was some controversy about the skills of the responding ambulance personnel. Indeed, Kolonics could not be resuscitated and he died on the scene.
An autopsy was performed, but the only heart-related finding was some mild plaque in the coronary arteries. Authorities concluded that he had a sudden cardiac death (due, presumably, to a ventricular arrhythmia).
As I’ve pointed out previously, all of us in the athletic community would be well served by learning CPR and the use of an AED. When an athlete collapses from a sudden arrhythmia, his fate rests entirely in the response by the bystanders. The Gyorgy Kolonics story also illustrates the importance for coaching staffs and event organizers to have plans for AED or EMS availability within short response times.
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