AP

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

4 Comments

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 1983 World champion will become oldest Olympic table tennis player

‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

Leave a comment

Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt says one man can bring him out of retirement