Agnes Keleti (HUN)
Olga Korbut, Daniella Silivas,
Lyudmilla Tourischeva, Nadia Comaneci, Agnes Keleti.... Wait,
who?! Agnes Ke---? How many times have you sat down to watch a
segment about the former gymnastic greats and how many times have
you hear of Olga? Of Nadia? Mary Lou? Bet you haven't heard of
Agnes Keleti - but you should have! With 10 Olympic medals, five
of them gold, Agnes Keleti ranks third among women with the most
Olympic medals. She won the first of her medals at age 31, the
last at age 35.
Agnes Keleti was born of Jewish
parents in Budapest in 1921. She began gymnastics at age 4, and
at age 16 she won the first of what would be 10 National titles.
The year was 1937, and Keleti was focused on the 1940 Olympics.
It quickly became apparent however, that Keleti's main challenge
would be avoiding Hitler's persecution.
As war descended on Europe,
Keleti's father was sent to Auschwitz, and her mother and sister
went into hiding (only to be found and sent to another
concentration camp). Agnes was able to purchase the papers of a
Christian girl and escape to a remote Hungarian village, where
she survived by working as a maid. After the war, Keleti learned
that her mother and sister had survived the concentation camps.
Sadly, her father and all of her extended relatives had perished.
Despite the horrors of war, Keleti
had retained her passion for gymnastics. Unable to compete in the
1948 Olympics due to injury, Keleti finally got her chance at the
1952 Olympics. Keleti explained that because of her age
(thirty-one), she took a relaxed approach to these Olympics,
"I didn't really think I could win anything, but I was
getting the chance to see the world." Keleti surprised
everyone, including herself, winning a gold medal in floor
exercise, a bronze on the uneven bars, and led her team to a
Keleti performed well in the event
finals at the 1954 Worlds, picking up a gold on the uneven bars
and bronze on BB. She finished fourth on floor, just short of a
medal. Four years later, in 1956 and at age of thirty-five,
Keleti returned to the Olympics to win 6 more medals. Medals were
the last thing on her mind however. While in Melbourne, 200 000
Soviet troups invaded Hungary to squash their Revolution against
Upon hearing the news, over half
of the Hungary Olympic delegation - Keleti included - refused to
leave Melbourne and go back home. Keleti was lucky in that she
was able to get her mother and sister out of Hungary. They joined
Keleti in Australia, but after several short months the family immigrated to Israel where they received citizenship.
As of 1995, Keleti was living and
coaching gymnastics just outside of Tel-Aviv. At age 74, she was
more than capable of performing cartwheels and the splits!
A more recent (2005) interview with Keleti: http://www.shoshanakordova.com/2006/09/not-always-a-soft-landing/
. This page was created on August 25th, 1999 and last updated July