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 silver medal.

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 Soviet dominance.

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 2008.

 

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