Meet Agnes Keleti: Holocaust Survivor and Oldest Surviving Olympic Champion

by Keeli Parkey
meet-agnes-keleti-holocaust-survivor-and-oldest-surviving-olympic-champion

Agnes Keleti celebrated her 100th birthday on Jan. 9, 2021. In her 100 years, she has experienced and done things most of us can only imagine – and even fear. She is the oldest surviving Olympic champion and a Holocaust survivor.

Keleti has truly lived a remarkable life. According to a feature by CBS News, she was born in Hungary to Jewish parents. When she was 16 years old she won her first national gymnastics title. Ahead, was a spot on Hungary’s 1940 Olympic team. However, World War II forced the cancellation of those games.

Worse still, because of the persecution of the Jewish people at that time, Keleti’s life took a sad turn. She was no longer allowed in her gymnastics club in 1941. Then, she and her family had to go into hiding. During that time she worked as a maid using a false identity. CBS also reports that her father and other family members were among the 550,000 Jews murdered at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Agnes Keleti Competes in Olympics at Age 31

When the war finally ended, Keleti had the chance to return to gymnastics when she was 31. Despite being much older than most other Olympic gymnasts, she was very successful. Competing in Helsinki, Finland, in 1952, she won gold in the floor exercise, according to Olympic.org.

Four years later in Melbourne, Australia, she won four gold medals. She won in the floor exercise, balance bean, uneven bars and in the team event. At that time, when she was 35, she was the oldest female gymnast to win an Olympic crown.

Agnes Keleti won a total of 10 Olympic medals during her career. Who knows how many she could have won had the tragedy of World War II not put her career on hold. The president of the International Olympic Committee shared this sentiment.

“Heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for your birthday. Your story is truly inspirational,” President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach said to Keleti. “You have demonstrated the power of strong determination and courage to overcome tragedy. These are the attributes of a great Olympic champion. As an Olympian, your 10 medals, five of them gold, are truly amazing. I am sure that had you competed at the Olympic Games London 1948, you might even have had more.” 

“These 100 years felt to me like 60,” Agnes Keleti told The Associated Press. She also said: “I love life. Health is the essence. Without it, there is nothing.”

According to CBS, Agnes Keleti moved to Israel and coached the women’s gymnastics team there. No other female Hungarian Olympian is more decorated than Keleti. In 2002, she was named to the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Outsider.com