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Agnes Keleti, oldest living Olympic champion and Holocaust survivor, turns 99

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Although she turned 99 on Thursday, even a 9-year-old would have a hard time keeping up with Agnes Keleti‘s irrepressible energy and enthusiasm.

Keleti is the oldest living Olympic champion and a Holocaust survivor. She won 10 medals in gymnastics — including five golds — between the 1952 Helsinki Games and at the 1956 Melbourne Games.

Still, speaking on the eve of her birthday at her elegant apartment in downtown Budapest, Keleti hardly wanted to mention her achievements and her long life, which includes adventures and great accomplishments, but also heartbreak and tragedy.

Keleti’s family was decimated during the Holocaust, which she survived thanks in part to assuming a false identity and working as a maid. While her mother and sister also survived, her father and uncles perished at Auschwitz and were among the 550,000 Hungarian Jews killed in Nazi death camps, Hungarian forced labor battalions, ghettos or shot to death into the Danube River.

“The past? Let’s talk about the future,” Keleti said. “That’s what should be beautiful. The past is past, but there is still a future.”

Even her Olympic memories seem to center not on her athletic prowess — among Jewish athletes, only American swimmers Mark Spitz and Dara Torres have won more Olympic medals — but rather on the travel opportunities her sporting career offered.

“It’s not the medals that are significant but the experiences that came with them,” Keleti said while holding some of the nine medals she still has (one was reportedly lent to a journalist for a project and never returned). “I loved gymnastics because it was possible to travel for free.”

Even standing on the podium to get her medals didn’t really appeal to her: “I didn’t want to show myself. I loved to do gymnastics.”

After winning a gold medal in the floor exercise at the Helsinki Games, as well as a silver in the team event and two bronzes, Keleti won three individual golds in Melbourne — balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars — and another in a team event, while also winning silver in the all-around competition and another team event. She could have won even more but an injury kept her from competing at the 1948 London Olympics.

She doesn’t watch sports on television these days, not even the Olympics, which “aren’t very interesting. I prefer mountain climbing.”

The climbing days may be behind her, but she seems most happy taking walks around Budapest, where she returned a few years ago after living for decades in Israel, or traveling to places like Barcelona, which she visited last year.

Keleti, who began her gymnastics career at the age of 4 and won her Olympic medals at the hard-to-believe ages of 31 and 35, was also a talented cello player and, after moving to Israel in 1957, taught gymnastics for years.

“I love children and I also love to teach them,” she said.

Asked about the most important thing children should learn, Keleti answered without hesitation: “The joy of life.”

Keleti, whose infectious laugh seems always ready to spring into action, has a favorite prank for those expecting to meet a frail, weak lady entering her 100th year. She extends her hand in greeting, makes sure her grip is good and tight, and suddenly yanks the unsuspecting “victim” toward her with surprising force.

“I’m strong,” she says with a big chuckle after the pull. “And silly!”

While she stopped doing full leg splits on the floor not long ago, she still does them standing up while holding her son Rafael’s hand, or sitting on a couch.

If there’s one issue she continues to have an opinion about, it’s the premature pressure and exhausting exercises young gymnasts may be exposed to.

“That’s not good,” Keleti said. “Tough gymnastics exercises damage their development. It shouldn’t be started early.

“Not to mention that, in the first place, it’s the children’s minds that should be developed, not their bodies.”

What did she do to train her mind?: “I studied languages and I saw the world.”

Keleti has been given a long series of prestigious awards in Hungary and Israel, including being one of Hungary’s 12 “Athletes of the Nation” since 2004 and getting the Israel Prize, considered that state’s highest honor, in 2017.

But, as with her Olympic medals, she doesn’t seem impressed by the recognition of her successes.

“I excelled?” she asks, almost incredulously. “I did what I could and that’s it.”

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Meghan Duggan, U.S. Olympic hockey captain, fills in for teacher battling coronavirus

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Meghan Duggan, captain of the U.S. Olympic champion hockey team, is helping out her elementary school, subbing for a physical education teacher who has the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately she’s been battling Covid, and needed a little bit of help to encourage and keep her gym-class students active while they’re at home,” Duggan told local Boston TV station WHDH.

Duggan, a 32-year-old, three-time Olympian, gave birth to son George on Feb. 29.

She was asked by her former PE teacher to fill in, according to the report, which added that the regular teacher is on antibiotics and improving.

Two decades ago, Duggan attended Willis E. Thorpe Elementary School in Danvers, Mass. This week, she taught Thorpe students with a virtual workout video.

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U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials set new dates in 2021 in Omaha

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The U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, originally scheduled for June 21-28 in Omaha, will now be June 13-20, 2021 at the same venue.

The Olympic Trials event schedule will remain the same across the 15-session, eight-day meet.

The top two finishers per individual event are in line to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Usually, the top six finishers in the 100m and 200m freestyles also qualify for relays.

Trials will be one week earlier in relation to the Olympics, which moved from July 24-Aug. 9, 2020 to July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

As of Friday, 1,213 athletes have achieved the 2020 qualifying times to swim at trials. USA Swimming anticipates those swimmers will remain qualified for 2021. Updated trials qualifying standards will be released before swimming competition resumes.

Around 1,800 swimmers qualified to compete at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Omaha, announced as host in May 2017, will hold the trials for a record fourth straight time.

The trials were first held at the CHI Health Center Center (then the Qwest Center) in 2008, after they were in Long Beach, Calif., in 2004 and Indianapolis in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

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