Skip to main content

He is a wrestler and his name is Zoltan Hunyady, but this weekend, his handle is Mr. Heartbreak.

Hunyady's job tomorrow is to block a Canadian sport legend, Daniel Igali, from getting to the Athens Olympic Games. The two men are pitted in a wrestling match on national television (CBC, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. EDT).

At stake is the 74-kilogram berth on the Canadian Olympic team that Hunyady won at the Olympic trials in December. Igali was injured then, and now comes to Brock University at St. Catharines, Ont., as the challenger.

Story continues below advertisement

If this were one of those professional wrestling melodramas, Hunyady would inevitably be cast as the villain and Igali as the hero turned underdog.

"Zoltan's caught between a rock and a hard place," said Doug Cox, a 1988 Olympic wrestler who coaches Hunyady at the University of Guelph.

Cox said Hunyady will be branded as the bad guy if he wins. "If you lose, people will say it was expected. It's a hard row to hoe."

Igali, 30, of Surrey, B.C., is one of the most popular amateur athletes in Canadian history. The Nigerian-born wrestler, from a family of 20 siblings in a dirt-poor town, came to Canada 10 years ago for the Commonwealth Games in Victoria and stayed to make the most of his opportunity. He studied at Simon Fraser University, won a world championship, then Canada's first wrestling gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. He knelt and kissed the flag, and wept during Canada's anthem. He has travelled this country to inspire youth, but has also travelled back to his village of Eniwari Town to build a schoolhouse and excavate wells.

Along the way, there have been hard times and tragedies. His career was in jeopardy one year ago when he underwent complicated neck surgery because of a herniated cervical disc. In a short span, he has had to deal with the deaths of his wrestling mentor, his adoptive mother in Canada, and his father in Nigeria. Igali's story is the subject of a Life and Times documentary called Wrestling with Destiny, to be aired Tuesday on CBC.

"He's a class act," Cox said. "We're not out to beat Daniel the Good Guy, but Daniel the Wrestler. It's difficult and frustrating if there's a sense of 'bad' about your winning."

Hunyady's ambition has been no less intense. A science teacher in Fergus, Ont., he gained a piece of his lifelong dream last December, fighting his way through the field in the 74-kilogram class. He has struggled to make his Olympic dream happen, sweating his way through nightly workouts after his fulltime job at Centre Wellington District High School, where he also coaches the school's wrestling team. He has endured five knee surgeries and one knee reconstruction.

Story continues below advertisement

A highly competent and competitive international wrestler, it has been Hunyady's bane to wrestle in the same weight class as Igali. At the end of the Olympic qualifying tournament, Hunyady was the only one standing -- still in the shadow of the absent Igali.

"I started wrestling in Grade 11, and worked my way up through provincial championships and the junior national team and then to the national training centre at Guelph," Hunyady said.

Four times, he was an Ontario university champion and twice a national university champion. "Slowly, I got to the top three in the country, and I beat Daniel in 1997 the first time we wrestled. He's won the four times we've met since then."

The match is technically a best-two-of-three series, but because Igali missed the trials, Hunyady is deemed to have a one-win advantage. Igali must beat Hunyady twice tomorrow to bump him off the team.

Hunyady didn't make it to the 2000 Olympic trials because he had blown out the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

He watched the Sydney Games on television as Igali celebrated.

Story continues below advertisement

"When Daniel won, I didn't regret it," he said. "He's a great athlete and deserves what he got.

"I'm more of a technical wrestler. He's powerful and has speed. He's also got good financial support from his club.

"I'm in a small club and pay for most of my tournaments. I've got a wife and a baby and another baby on the way, but we squeezed out $500 for me to go to a Colorado tournament last year."

There, he beat a world junior champion, who in turn had beaten a world silver medalist. Last summer, Hunyady represented Canada at the Pan American Games and won a bronze medal.

"The bronze is one of my highlights, but the Olympic trials has been the best," he said. "It's been my dream to make it to the Olympic Games."

If his dream is to continue, it means thwarting Igali's.

Story continues below advertisement

One way or the other, he's Mr. Heartbreak.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies