‘I love life’: Oldest living Olympic champion turns 100

AP/File photo
0 Comments

BUDAPEST, Hungary — For Agnes Keleti, the oldest living Olympic champion, the fondest memory of her remarkable 100 years is simply that she has lived through it all.

The Holocaust survivor and winner of 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics — including five golds — celebrates her 100th birthday on Saturday in her native Budapest, punctuating a life of achievement, adventure, tragedy and perseverance which, she says, 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.

Leafing through a copy of a new book about her life — “The Queen of Gymnastics: 100 Years of Agnes Keleti” — her trademark modesty was on full display.

“‘The queen of gymnastics,’” she said, switching to English. And in Hungarian: “That’s an exaggeration.”

Keleti, who was born Agnes Klein in 1921, had her illustrious career interrupted by World War II and the subsequent cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. Forced off her gymnastics team in 1941 because of her Jewish ancestry, Keleti went into hiding in the Hungarian countryside where she survived the Holocaust by assuming a false identity and working as a maid.

Her mother and sister survived the war with the help of famed Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, but her father and other relatives perished at Auschwitz, among the more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed in Nazi death camps and by Hungarian Nazi collaborators.

Resuming her career after the war, Keleti was set to compete at the 1948 London Olympics but a last-minute ankle injury dashed her hopes. Four years later, she made her Olympic debut at the 1952 Helsinki Games at the age of 31, winning a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a silver and two bronzes.

Despite her achievements — with six medals she was the most successful athlete at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and she is recognized as one of the most successful Jewish Olympic athletes of all time — the still-vivacious Keleti said she most values her health and the simple fact that she has lived.

“I love life,” she said. “Health is the essence. Without it, there is nothing.”

In an interview with The Associated Press last year, Keleti said the experiences she gained while traveling the world were more precious to her than her 10 Olympic medals.

“I loved gymnastics because it was possible to travel for free,” she said.

Those travels would ultimately result in a nearly 60-year absence from her native Hungary. At the age of 35, while she was becoming the oldest gold medalist in gymnastics history in Melbourne, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary following an unsuccessful anti-Soviet uprising. Keleti remained in Australia and sought political asylum. She then immigrated to Israel the following year and worked as a trainer and coached the Israeli Olympic gymnastics team until the 1990s.

After leaving Hungary for the Olympics in 1956, she visited her native country only once before returning to Budapest in 2015.

Keleti was awarded the Israel Prize in 2017 — considered that country’s highest cultural honor — and is the recipient of numerous other prestigious awards, including being named one of Hungary’s “Athletes of the Nation” in 2004. She holds individual gold medals in the floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars.

Today, Keleti follows her doctor’s recent advice to avoid performing full leg splits, and her near-perpetual smile and infectious laughter are reminders that even in times of great hardship, there remains the immutable potential for perseverance and the joy of life.

“I live well, and it’s great that I’m still healthy,” Keleti said. “And I love life.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Hail Ilia Malinin’s first U.S. figure skating title for six-quad ambition, Jason Brown’s advice

0 Comments

SAN JOSE, California – Ilia Malinin clearly will have mixed emotions when he remembers winning his first U.S. figure skating title.

That was apparent from his reaction after finishing Sunday’s free skate.

The 18-year-old with limitless potential and seemingly limitless confidence had been rattled by his worst free skate of the season.

He shook his head sadly. Then he shook it again.

“Of course, this wasn’t the skate I wanted, but there’s always ups and downs, and you just after get over it and move on,” Malinin said.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

He planned the hardest technical program anyone ever had attempted, with six quadruple jumps and two challenging combinations in the second half of the four-minute program. And he gamely kept trying to execute it, even after significant mistakes that would leave him second to surprising Andrew Torgashev in the free skate.

Malinin (287.74 total points) still finished comfortably ahead of the evergreen Jason Brown (277.31). Torgashev was third overall at 256.56.

Malinin skated with doggedness rather the dynamism that infused his brilliant short program Friday, by far his best short program of the season.

“I think I was just a little bit sluggish, and I just wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen,” he said.

Malinin fell on his opening jump, the quadruple Axel, then reeled off three other quads flawlessly. He popped two other planned quads into doubles, then turned his final jumping pass, planned as a sequence of two jumps, into an unprecedented triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe loop sequence. For context: only Malinin has done a triple Lutz-triple Axel sequence.

“I think its’s not that I was planning too much,” he said. “I think it was I wasn’t really prepared for this amount. And it was mostly because we were focusing on that short program.”

Brown, 28, who first competed at senior nationals 12 years ago, skated magnificently. If it weren’t for a fall on his ambitious final free skate jump, a triple flip coming out of a knee slide, Brown’s overall performance in both the short and free would have been as good as any he had done in the U.S. Championships.

With his longevity and insight, Brown, a two-time Olympian and seven-time national medalist (gold in 2015) was able to put what had befallen Malinin into accurate perspective and encourage him not to lose confidence over it.

Brown heard the press conference questions Malinin was getting over what went wrong, questions both legitimate and expected, and he wanted his younger teammate not to dwell on them.

“You did a triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe at the end of your program, and I did a knee slide and could barely stand up to do the flip,” Brown said to Malinin, sitting next to him at the dais.

“The way you keep pushing the sport is incredible. So don’t stop being you.”

Malinin, an unexpected second at last year’s nationals, came here under a spotlight brighter than any he had experienced, largely due to his history-making success earlier this season as the first to land a quad Axel in competition.

For all his disarming bravado, evidenced by choosing quadg0d as his social media name, Malinin is not immune to the pressure of a big event and his position as favorite.

“There is an amount of experience (necessary) that it takes time to get,” Brown said. “I’ve been through it all. I’ve had a lot of ups, I’ve had a lot of downs. As you (Malinin) said, it’s how you take this experience and learn from it and grow from it. That’s what you’re going to do.”

Both Malinin and Brown leave Monday to perform eight shows in three Swiss cities over 11 days with the Art on Ice tour. They are both expected to be on the U.S. team for the world championships this March in Japan.

Malinin leaves with the title and the satisfaction of not having minimized risk given his big lead after the short program.

“This was an opportunity for me to try this new layout,” Malinin said. “Of course, it didn’t go off the best. We’ll take advice from this and look forward to worlds.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
Getty
0 Comments

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!