Olympian and Masters weightlifting great Mihaly Huszka has died aged 89 ©ITG

Mihaly 'Mike' Huszka, who has died aged 89 in Texas, began his international weightlifting career for Hungary in 1957 and became one of the great Masters lifters for both the United States and Hungary.

He competed as recently as 2018, aged 85, making a total of more than 100 kilograms to earn the 105kg world title for over-80s, the fifth major victory he gained after his 80th birthday.

"Mike was arguably the uniquely most accomplished individual overall across both senior and Masters weightlifting divisions," said David Meltzer, the originator of the age formula for male weightlifters, who is also technical and scientific consultant to the International Masters Weightlifting Association and USA Masters.

"He had multiple podium finishes at the senior World Championships and dozens of them stretching over 34 years in Masters championships.

"Mike was clearly among the world's top elite lifters in the 1960s, and he was one of the very few of those who committed to Masters lifting on a long-term basis."

Huszka continually made many World Masters records in different weight classes, revising them as he moved up in age groups.

Several times, he simultaneously held World Masters records in three different weight classes.

Huszka was awarded Grand Master Weightlifter of the Century.

Mike Huszka competed in the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games ©ITG
Mike Huszka competed in the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games ©ITG

He was also a double Olympian, finishing sixth in 1960 and 1964, and was twice placed second in the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships and European Championships.

Huszka became a renowned coach who was a pioneer for Masters weightlifting and also a strong advocate of women's weightlifting before it was recognised by the IWF and later the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

He organised the second US Women's Nationals in 1982. 

He registered three separate teams at a time when women’s weightlifting was in its infancy.

"My father looked at the weightlifting community as one big team," said Attila Huszka, the younger of his two sons.

"It’s where his heart was for his entire life."

Huszka first learned about weightlifting from a friend when he worked in his father’s grain mill, and taught himself how to lift a pair of railway train wheels attached to a bar.

He moved to Budapest, signing up as a blacksmith's apprentice, to learn more, and wrote to the Government department for apprentices to ask for a weightlifting coach to be sent to the home where dozens of apprentices lived.

It worked and Huszka started an apprentices team, which he captained until he was drafted into the army for three years' service.

Mike Huszka with Hungary team-mate Gyozo Veres ©ITG
Mike Huszka with Hungary team-mate Gyozo Veres ©ITG

When he came out in 1956, he decided to lose weight and compete as a lightweight - he later moved up the weights - and within a year he was in Hungary’s national team.

There were times when he wanted to compete as a middleweight but had to lose huge amounts of weight, 7kg or 8kg, when he was selected as a lightweight.

Huszka's most memorable competition was against Aleksandr Kurynov, the Olympic champion from the Soviet Union, at the 1963 IWF World Championships in Stockholm, when he lost on bodyweight.

In an interview for Strength & Health magazine in 1965, when he moved to the United States after coaching in Austria, Huszka said he was not a gym lifter and would never recommend anyone to go for records in the gym because "training should be only a preparation for competition".

He was already planning to be a coach before he retired from senior competition, and he had far more success in the US than his former Hungary team-mate Gyozo Veres did in Australia.

Veres' talent and experience were overlooked by the Australian federation.

Huszka trained more than 1,250 athletes, including six Olympians, 15 international lifters, 34 national champions, and one world record holder.

Among the Olympians was Fred Lowe, another renowned Masters lifter who trained under Huszka at Duncan YMCA in Chicago while he was a student in the late 1960s.

"He would write programmes based on the training that Gyozo Veres had been so successful with," said Lowe.

"These involved performing every rep at maximum speed, at an overall average lift intensity for each cycle of about 72 per cent.

Mike Huszka with fellow Masters lifter and US Olympian Fred Lowe ©David Meltzer
Mike Huszka with fellow Masters lifter and US Olympian Fred Lowe ©David Meltzer

"We trained six days a week, and Rick Holbrook (another US Olympian) and I perhaps had the greatest benefit from his training cycles in terms of overall improvement as we embraced the system and did every prescription to the letter.

"I frequently saw Mike at US and World Masters meets after I came back to compete in 1993.

"Our last meeting was in Torino, Italy in 2013 where he did an unbelievable 88kg clean and jerk at age 80.

"One thing was clear about the man: he loved weightlifting."

Another of Huszka's athletes, Mike Martin, said: "When I performed at the Olympic trials and became an alternate for the 2000 team, it was something that was both 100 per cent mine and 100 per cent Mike’s.

"We both shared in it.

"He was a tremendous coach whose philosophy of training and programmes were cultivated before steroids became huge, so it was interesting to see how he possessed knowledge about training natural athletes that is virtually unheard of today.

"He had a coherent philosophy and methodology for natural athletes and it worked.

"At heart he was always an uncomplicated person who loved weightlifting."

In 2012, Huszka returned to Hungary for a while. 

In 2017, he returned to Texas to be closer with his family and continue weightlifting.

Unfortunately, about two years ago he was diagnosed with a rare progressive neurological disease that ultimately led to his death.

Among the athletes he coached was Ursula Papandrea, who is now one of the most highly-qualified coaches in the US and is first vice-president of the IWF.