Agnes Keleti – The most decorated Jewish Olympic champion that almost nobody ever heard of

In general, and with very few exceptions, the Jews are not known for their sporting ability. From the Greeks and Romans with their Olympic Games, marathons and worship of the human body, through to nowadays, we Jews are more renowned for our brains than our brawn. Yes, we have Aly Raisman, the American Olympic superstar, and Mark Spitz who won 7 gold medals in the ill-fated 1972 Olympics, but Israelis are once again bemoaning our lack of medal-power (although there is still hope with the rhythmic gymnastics team), notwithstanding the two bronze medals won this year by judokas Yarden Gerbi (trained by former silver medallist Yael Arad) and Or Sasson.   The one notable exception on Israel’s record was gold medallist Gal Fridman in the sailboard competition in 2004. You can see Israel’s sad showing at the Olympics at this table.

But unbeknownst to most of us, there was a much more decorated Jewish Olympic champion back in the 1950s. Her name is Agnes Keleti, and she is still alive and well, living in Israel, and still practicing gymnastics at the age of 95!

Here is her story via Kveller:

Before Aly Raisman, there was Holocaust survivor Agnes Keleti. Keleti was born in Hungary, where she began gymnastics at age 4. She was supposed to compete in the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, but because of World War II, they were canceled. As a result, she went into hiding to survive–although many of her family members were killed in Auschwitz.

Due to an injury, she was unable to compete in the 1948 Olympics, and didn’t compete until the 1952 games at age 31–where she won four medals. Then, in the 1956 Olympics at age 35, Keleti became the oldest female gymnast ever to win gold. She still practices gymnastics to this day.



What an amazing story! Agnes shows that where there is a will there’s a way. And of course she also proves that yes – Jews CAN do sport! 🙂

May Agnes Keleti continue to enjoy a long, happy and healthy life until 120!

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5 Responses to Agnes Keleti – The most decorated Jewish Olympic champion that almost nobody ever heard of

  1. Pingback: Agnes Keleti – The most decorated Jewish Olympic champion that almost nobody ever heard of – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Not to denigrate Agnes Keleti – and no-one can or should EVER denigrate anyone who reaches the level to be able to compete in the Olympics, let alone win medals – but didn’t Mark Spitz win 7 Golds at one Olympics? And a further 2 Golds as well?

    Actually, there are a large number of Jewish sportspeople in all sorts of national teams, up to and including Olympic level. Further, I suspect that, in the West, loads of Jewish youngsters (and not so youngsters) take part in sport: in the UK, Maccabi still thrives at this level. My US-based grandsons are sports mad and take part in all sorts of sports: the younger one is (for his age) the better of the two and might well, like other US Jewish youngsters, end up in sports.

    This is not a recent trend: Hakoah of Vienna (Maccabi affiliated) was good enough (before the Anschluss) to regularly win the Austrian Division 1 football championship.

    I don’t know about others of my generation, but at secondary school, I was good enough to represent my school (a grammar school, and not a Jewish school) at cross-country (we won various trophies), and to run middle-distance events (particularly the mile) during the summer.

    Maccabi was founded to undermine the very notion of the “nebbish”, bookish Jew and add the notion of “muscular Judaism” to go alongside the notion of “muscular Christianity”.

    And don’t forget the 4-yearly Maccabiah, held in Israel, and the third or fourth biggest international sports event, after the Olympics, the European Games and, possibly, the Pan-American Games.

    • anneinpt says:

      Oh for sure I wasn’t forgetting the other Jewish athletes. I even mentioned Mark Spitz though I forgot to mention the Maccabiah. I was generalizing and also gently mocking Israel’s “gevalt” attitude at every Olympics.

    • anneinpt says:

      PS I’m very impressed with your sporting ability! And your grandchildren too!

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