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Agnes Keleti, The Oldest Living Olympic Champion, Just Turned 100: 'I Love Life'

Agnes Keleti, The Oldest Living Olympic Champion, Just Turned 100: 'I Love Life'

Keleti has won 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics, including five golds.

The mark of a champion is one of resilience and discipline. Agnes Keleti, an athlete from Hungary, is celebrating her 100th birthday this year, making her the oldest living Olympic champion. The last century has been filled with struggles and competition and she has surfaced with ten Olympic medals in gymnastics including five golds. She celebrated her birthday on Saturday in her native place, Budapest, where she reflected on a life of achievement, adventure, tragedy, and sheer perseverance. According to her, life was so busy and full of action that the years passed by in a flash. 

 



 

 

“These 100 years felt to me like 60,” she said at a celebration in Budapest on the eve of her birthday. Going through a copy of a new book about her life The Queen of Gymnastics: 100 Years of Agnes Keleti, we find that her trademark modesty is evident more than ever. “‘The queen of gymnastics,’” she said, switching to English. And in Hungarian, she said: “That’s an exaggeration.” Keleti was born Agnes Klein in 1921, and she was interested in athletics from a very young age. Unfortunately, World War II soon took place in Europe, which led to the cancellation of the 1940 and '44 Olympics. Aside from that, she also faced trouble in her gymnastics team due to her Jewish ancestry and was soon forced into hiding in the Hungarian countryside by assuming a false identity and working as a maid. 

 



 

 

Keleti's mother and sister also survived the war, thanks to the help of famed Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Her father and some other relatives perished in the war and were among more than half a million fellow-countrymen killed during that fateful time of human history. After the war, she resumed her career in earnest and was all set to compete at the 1948 London Olympics. However, a last-minute ankle injury shattered her dreams once again. At this point, multiple failures already broke her spirit but she continued to persist in her goals. Four years later, she finally made her Olympic debut at the age of 31 in the 1952 Helsinki Games. She went on to win a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a silver and two bronzes. 

 



 

 

From then on out, she has had nothing but success, bagging another six medals at the subsequent 1956 Melbourne Olympics. She is also recognized as one of the most successful Jewish Olympic athletes of all time. Her secret is that she values her health and enjoys the simple fact that she has lived life to the fullest. “I love life,” she said. “Health is the essence. Without it, there is nothing.” In an interview last year, Keleti stated that the experiences she went through while traveling the world are more precious to her than the 10 Olympic medals she was won. “I loved gymnastics because it was possible to travel for free,” she said. “I live well, and it’s great that I’m still healthy,” Keleti said. She was also awarded the Israel Prize in 2017, which is considered the country’s highest cultural honor. Keleti is also a  recipient of numerous other prestigious awards, including being named one of Hungary’s “Athletes of the Nation” in 2004. 

 



 

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