When you consider Agnes Keleti’s zest for life and remarkable physical health, it’s hard to believe she just turned 100 years old.
Born on January 9, 1921 in Budapest, Hungary, she has experienced some truly extraordinary events. Most notably, she’s an Olympic champion who survived an unprecedented time in history.
Agnes grew up loving sports. She spent her childhood swimming, biking, running, and most of all, practicing gymnastics. The talented athlete was just 16 when she won her first national title! She was poised to compete at the 1940 Olympic games, but unfortunately, they were canceled in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II.
Instead of representing her country at the Olympics, Agnes and her fellow Jewish countrymen became a target of the Nazis. Her gymnastics club kicked her out for being Jewish, so she changed her identity and fled the city.
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“I managed to buy the identification papers of a Christian girl, she was around the same age as me,” Agnes explained. “In Hungary, all the Jews were required to wear a yellow star for identification, but I refused. With my false papers, I managed to escape to the country. I stayed in a remote village and found work as a maid.”
Sadly, her father and many other family members were killed in concentration camps. Her mother and sister narrowly escaped thanks to the help of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
After the war, Agnes vowed to continue her gymnastics career, but she wasn’t able to compete in the London games in 1948 due to a ligament injury.
Even being sidelined in her prime physical years couldn’t dissuade her! In 1952 at age 31, she was back at the Olympic games in Helsinki, winning four medals, including a gold!
Two years later, she became a champion at the 1954 World Championships, but it wasn’t until 1956 that she made history as the oldest female gymnast to ever win an Olympic gold medal! Competing in the 1956 summer games in Melbourne, Australia, the 35-year-old won six medals, including the gold in floor, bars, and balance team.
After the Olympics, Agnes stayed in Melbourne due to the Soviet conflict in Hungary. She eventually emigrated to Israel before moving back home to Budapest. These days, she lives with a caretaker and attributes her long life to staying physically fit and finding joy in everything she does.
On January 9, 2021, Agnes celebrated her 100th birthday! “These 100 years felt to me like 60,” she said with a laugh. She’s still as spry as someone half her age, although her doctor has advised her against doing more full splits.
“I love life,” Agnes added. “Health is the essence. Without it, there is nothing.”
Agnes is grateful for every second she got to be a professional athlete. “The sport gave me the opportunity to see the world without money,” she said.
She spent most of her post-Olympic life teaching gymnastics to children, ensuring the sport she loves will continue to bring opportunities and joy to others.
What a shining spirit! Agnes is proof that no matter what we go through, we can come out stronger on the other side. Plus, it’s never too late to shatter world records!
Share this story to wish Agnes a happy 100th birthday.
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