Clocking a century today, is the oldest surviving champion, Agnes Keleti. She hails from Hungary and not only is she one of the country’s most crowned Olympian with 10 medals winning 5 gold medals in Helsinki 152 and Melbourne 1956, she is one of the most decorated Jewish athletes. Only three male Olympians have won more gold medals than her in Hungary
Hungary’s most-decorated female Olympian, won the floor event in 1952 in which includes uneven bars, balance beam and team event, being her first time at the Olympics at 31 year of age. She defended her title in 1954 making her World champion. In 2002 the International Gymnastics Hall Of Fame inducted Keleti and she has an Israel prize from 2017.
In 1956, Summer Olympics Melbourne, Keleti won six medals which included three gold medals and at 35 making her the oldest female gymnast to ever win gold. It was after this that the Soviet Union invaded Hungary during the Olympics and together with 44 other athletes, Keleti received political asylum.
As much as this might seem all glorious, not seem, it is. Keleti might just have had more had she competed in the Olympics before she was 31. However, she survived the World War 2, She began gymnastics at age 4 having been born in Budapest and by 16 she was the Hungary National Champion. She was considered in the 1940 Olympics, but the war had the games cancelled and not a chance given in 1944. As she was forced to go into hiding, she was also expelled at her club for being Jewish and went into hiding together with her family. She survived by working as a maid in small village. Her father and her relatives were gassed during the Holocaust but her sister and mother were saved by a Swedish diplomat.
During this way, the Nazis used labor camps, when news got to her that she wouldn’t be taken in she hastily married Istvan Sarkany in 1944.He was a Hungarian gymnast in 1930s who had national titles and was in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Although they divorced in 1950. She later remarried and was blessed with two children.
Since Lydia Wideman passed away last year, Keleti became the oldest Olympian and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Mr. Thomas Bach called her since he couldn’t visit due to the pandemic restrictions and said, “Heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for your birthday. Your story is truly inspirational, you have demonstrated the power of strong determination and courage to overcome tragedy. These are the attributes of a great Olympic champion. As an Olympian, your 10 medals, five of them gold, are truly amazing. I am sure that had you competed at the Olympic Games London 1948; you might even have had more.
The MOB Secretary-General was present, the president of the Hungarian Olympic Champions Club and the Hungarian Gymnastics Association. She received cake and flowers and a copy of Hungary’s first modern Olympic champion Alfred Hajos’ victory medal.
Happy Birthday Ms. Keleti