The Holocaust survivor and winner of 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics – together with 5 golds – celebrates her a hundredth birthday on Saturday in her native Budapest, punctuating a lifetime of achievement, journey, tragedy and perseverance which, she says, handed by in a flash.
“These 100 years felt to me like 60,” she mentioned at a celebration in Budapest on the eve of her birthday.
Leafing via a duplicate of a brand new e book about her life – “The Queen of Gymnastics: 100 Years of Agnes Keleti” – her trademark modesty was on full show.
“`The queen of gymnastics,”‘ she mentioned, switching to English. And in Hungarian: “That is an exaggeration.”
Keleti, who was born Agnes Klein in 1921, had her illustrious profession interrupted by World Conflict II and the next cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. Compelled off her gymnastics workforce in 1941 due to her Jewish ancestry, Keleti went into hiding within the Hungarian countryside the place she survived the Holocaust by assuming a false id and dealing as a maid.
Her mom and sister survived the warfare with the assistance of famed Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, however her father and different family perished at Auschwitz, among the many greater than half 1,000,000 Hungarian Jews killed in Nazi dying camps and by Hungarian Nazi collaborators.
Resuming her profession after the warfare, Keleti was set to compete on the 1948 London Olympics however a last-minute ankle damage dashed her hopes. 4 years later, she made her Olympic debut on the 1952 Helsinki Games on the age of 31, successful a gold medal within the ground train in addition to a silver and two bronzes.
Regardless of her achievements – with six medals she was essentially the most profitable athlete on the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and he or she is acknowledged as probably the most profitable Jewish Olympic athletes of all time – the still-vivacious Keleti mentioned she most values her well being and the straightforward undeniable fact that she has lived.
“I really like life,” she mentioned. “Well being is the essence. With out it, there may be nothing.”
In an interview with The Related Press final 12 months, Keleti mentioned the experiences she gained whereas touring the world have been extra valuable to her than her 10 Olympic medals.
“I cherished gymnastics as a result of it was potential to journey free of charge,” she mentioned.
These travels would finally end in an almost 60-year absence from her native Hungary. On the age of 35, whereas she was changing into the oldest gold medalist in gymnastics historical past in Melbourne, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary following an unsuccessful anti-Soviet rebellion. Keleti remained in Australia and sought political asylum. She then immigrated to Israel the next 12 months and labored as a coach and coached the Israeli Olympic gymnastics workforce till the Nineties.
After leaving Hungary for the Olympics in 1956, she visited her native nation solely as soon as earlier than returning to Budapest in 2015.
Keleti was awarded the Israel Prize in 2017 – thought of that nation’s highest cultural honor – and is the recipient of quite a few different prestigious awards, together with being named one among Hungary’s “Athletes of the Nation” in 2004. She holds particular person gold medals within the ground train, stability beam and uneven bars.
At this time, Keleti follows her physician’s current recommendation to keep away from performing full leg splits, and her near-perpetual smile and infectious laughter are reminders that even in occasions of nice hardship, there stays the immutable potential for perseverance and the enjoyment of life.
“I dwell nicely, and it is nice that I am nonetheless wholesome,” Keleti mentioned. “And I really like life.”