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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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U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral

McKayla Maroney, Tonga flagbearer among viral Olympic stars of 2010s decade

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s this week. Here are 10 viral Olympic moments that defined the decade …

Vancouver 2010: Alexandre Bilodeau wins Canada’s first home gold, hugs brother
Canada went gold-less at both the 1976 Montreal Games and the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. A lot of thought was put into which athlete would earn its first title in Vancouver. It ended up being Bilodeau, who upset the defending champion and embraced his older brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

Vancouver 2010: Jon Montgomery’s celebratory drink after skeleton title
The Canadian came from behind to stun Latvian Martins Dukurs for gold. The scruffy car salesman/auctioneer then drank from a beer pitcher on a victory march through the Whistler ski village in one of the iconic moments of the Games.

London 2012: Queen/James Bond Opening Ceremony
Who could forget the Queen’s royal entrance into the London Olympic Stadium, “parachuting” in from above with the help of 007. Danny Boyle, the Oscar winner who directed the Opening Ceremony, originally thought an actress — perhaps Helen Mirren — would play the Queen in the skit, if approved by the royal family. “They came back and said, ‘We’re delighted for you to do it, and Her Majesty would like to be in it herself,’” Boyle said in 2013.

London 2012: McKayla Maroney not impressed
Stunned and upset that she was beaten for the Olympic vault title, Maroney became one of social media’s first major memes for her smirk on the podium. “I remember doing the face for literally two seconds,” Maroney said later. “Like, if you watch the video, it’s two seconds. And I remember thinking, did I just make a face? Because it’s natural. I do it all the time. I have pictures of me when I’m little doing it. I have it on my Mac computer when I’m like 13.”

Sochi 2014: Four-ring Opening Ceremony
By the third Olympics of the decade, everybody knew about hashtags. Among the more memorable #SochiProblems was an Opening Ceremony glitch where five snowflakes were supposed to open into five interlocking Olympic Rings. Only four did, leaving one snowflake that ended up looking like an asterisk. Organizers later made light of the mishap in the Closing Ceremony.

Sochi 2014: Johnny Quinn busts through bathroom
The U.S. bobsledder tweeted at 4:16 a.m. ET, “I was taking a shower and the door got locked/jammed…. …With no phone to call for help, I used my bobsled push training to break out. #SochiJailBreak.” And so Johnny Quinn became a social media sensation. He capitalized, training with a SWAT team (after the Games) and becoming a public speaker. Quinn, a former NFL preseason wide receiver, told his story in front of Fidelity Investments, school assemblies and LiftMaster, a suburban Chicago company whose products include garage-door accessories.

Rio 2016: Michael Phelps’ face
The swimming ready room in Rio became such a hit that a constant live stream was added to NBCOlympics.com’s wall-to-wall coverage. Phelps authored the best moment, stewing with a disgusted look as rival Chad le Clos shadow boxed in front of him. “I always know there’s two cameras in the upper right-hand corner right before I walk out, and I’m like sitting there, like spitting water,” Phelps said later. “As I’m making a face, I was like, yep, that’s on camera. … Someone will pick that one up tomorrow.”

Rio 2016: Usain Bolt’s mid-race smiles for cameras
In his last Olympics, the world’s fastest man created the most buzz while caught in still images in semifinals. Photos of Bolt — smiling while looking back at his 100m semifinal competitors mid-race — and exchanging glances with Andre De Grasse in the 200m semis — lit up social media. Tack them on to Bolt’s other viral moments, from crossing the finish line at the 2013 World Championships as lightning struck to getting run over by a Segway at the 2015 Worlds.

PyeongChang 2018: Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua
Taufatofua actually debuted his shirtless, oiled-up Opening Ceremony appearance in Rio as a taekwondo athlete. But his journey to becoming a dual Summer/Winter Olympian is the stuff of legend. He traversed the globe picking up Olympic cross-country skiing qualifying points in Finland, Australia, Colombia and finally Iceland, clinching a spot thanks to the sport’s very lenient structure for athletes from nations without a Winter Olympic tradition. In PyeongChang, he braved near-freezing temperatures to again go shirtless at the Opening Ceremony. He then finished outside the top 100 in his ski race.

PyeongChang 2018: Here Comes Diggins!
The U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title changed the lives of not only Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall, but also NBC Olympics analyst Chad Salmela. The exuberant call from Salmela, who knew fellow Minnesota native Diggins since she was in high school, became the name of a new flavor at Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diggins’ hometown of Afton.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral