This coming Saturday (January 9), a remarkable woman - and significant sporting figure - is due to reach the landmark of her 100th birthday.
Ágnes Keleti is the oldest surviving Olympic champion, having won 10 medals for Hungary in gymnastics at the Helsinki 1952 and Melbourne 1956 Games, including five golds. It is understood that she plans a modest celebration at her house in Budapest.
What makes Keleti’s sporting distinction even more impressive is that she did not get an opportunity to compete in the Olympics until she was 31, with the Second World War having put paid to the proposed 1940 and 1944 Games and injury having cruelly robbed her of the chance to take part in the London Games of 1948.
But Keleti faced challenges of a more profound nature during the War. Had it not been for her bravery, resourcefulness and luck she might have suffered the same fate as her father and other relatives in being killed by the Nazis.
Keleti had taken up gymnastics at the age of four, and she joined the VAC Sports Club, the only Jewish club in Hungary. At 16 she had won her first national title - she would go on to add nine more. As such Keleti looked a sure bet to be in the Hungarian team for the 1940 Olympics that were due to be held in Tokyo.
The war intervened, however, and in 1941, with Hungary fighting alongside Germany and Italy as part of the Axis powers, Keleti - born Agnes Klein - was expelled from her gymnastics club for being Jewish and was forced to go into hiding with her family in the countryside.
As conditions grew even more dangerous for her, she survived thanks in part to assuming a false identity and working as a maid. In 1944, when the Nazis occupied Hungary, she hastily married fellow gymnast István Sárkány, believing that it would make her less likely to be sent to a labour camp. They divorced in 1950.
Keleti’s father and uncles were among the 550,000 Hungarian Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, perishing after being sent to Auschwitz.
Her mother and sister went into hiding and were saved by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who found a place for them in Budapest in a "Swedish house". Keleti, left on her own, bought the identity papers of a Christian girl and spent the rest of the war working as a furrier and as a maid for a Nazi-sympathising family in a small Hungarian village.
Later Keleti worked in an ammunition factory and in the household of a German general stationed in the Hungarian capital. She reportedly smuggled the general’s leftover food to her sister and mother once a week.
In the winter of 1944-1945, during the Siege of Budapest by Soviet forces, Keleti would go out in the mornings to collect the bodies of those who had died and place them in a mass grave.
After the war Keleti, a talented musician, played the cello professionally and resumed her gymnastics career. She qualified for the 1948 Olympics in London, but missed the competition after tearing a ligament in her ankle. Thus she had to wait until 1952, in Helsinki, to start her Olympic career.
Keleti earned four medals, including gold in the floor exercise, and the following year she won a world title on uneven bars.
Four years later in Melbourne, Keleti became, aged 35, the oldest female gymnast to win gold as she earned victory in three of the four individual event finals - floor, bar and balance beam - and brought her Olympic medal collection to 10.
While the Olympics were going on, Hungary was invaded by the Soviet Union, and Keleti, along with 44 other athletes from her country, sought to remain in Australia and apply for political asylum.
Keleti emigrated to Israel in 1957 and was able to be joined there by her mother and sister. She married and had two sons, becoming a physical education instructor at Tel Aviv University, as well as coaching the Israeli national team.
She returned to live in her native city a few years ago.
On January 9 last year, her 99th birthday, Keleti was interviewed at home by Pablo Gorondi for the Associated Press.
"Keleti, whose infectious laugh seems always ready to spring into action, has a favourite prank for those expecting to meet a frail, weak lady entering her 100th year," he wrote.
"She extends her hand in greeting, makes sure her grip is good and tight, and suddenly yanks the unsuspecting 'victim' toward her with surprising force.
"'I’m strong,' she says with a big chuckle after the pull. 'And silly!'”
Asked by Gorondi to talk about the past, she responded: "The past? Let’s talk about the future. That’s what should be beautiful. The past is past but there is still a future."
She was less relaxed, however, about the pressure and exhausting exercises imposed upon young gymnasts.
"That’s not good," Keleti said. "Tough gymnastics exercises damage their development. It shouldn’t be started early. Not to mention that, in the first place, it’s the children’s minds that should be developed, not their bodies."
Keleti is recently reported to have shown some signs of dementia, which affect her short-term memory, but she was a feisty interviewee in November when Agence France-Presse spoke her.
"I feel good, but I don't look in the mirror, that's my trick! Then I remain young!"
It is only recently that Keleti has been advised not to perform full-leg splits any more, saying - "I’m told by my carer that it’s not good for me at this age!" In the course of the interview she leafed through the ebook newly published by the Hungarian Gymnastics Federation to mark her centenary, Because I Love Life - The Queen of Gymnastics, 100 years of Agnes Keleti.
The work, which contains 300 photographs, tells the story of the past century from Keleti’s point of view and includes 36 interviews undertaken before the advent of the global pandemic with team mates, family members, students and friends from Hungary, Australia, Israel and the United States.
Among the interviewees was Olga Tass, who won team gold with Hungary at the 1956 Olympics and who died on July 10 last year aged 91.
Dezső Dobor, co-author of the book with Sándor Dávid, told Maccabi.hu: "We wanted to create a memorial column formed of words for Ágnes Keleti, bowing to her talent and success.
"This will be a complete and permanent testament to her story. We hope that our book is able to capture and conserve the elements of Keleti’s story for anyone reading in the future: how people lived here, how a phenomenon lived among them, an artist who paved the way for the sport and still shows us her serenity, her health, her wisdom."
The publication, which has a foreword by 1968 and 1972 Olympic fencing team champion and former Hungarian President Pál Schmitt, has its own Facebook page, can be downloaded as an ebook from Multimediaplaza. An English version of the book was due to have been completed by the close of 2020.
In a message to the press conference marking the book’s initial launch in November, Keleti said she happily welcomed the work about her life and could not wait to start reading it.
In conjunction with the publication, a set of commemorative stamps were issued featuring Keleti - the latest in a series of gestures honouring her and her career.
She was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1981, the Hungarian Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 2004 Keleti was named among Hungary’s 12 Athletes of the Nation. The following year an asteroid discovered by Krisztián Sárneczky at the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest was named after her - Asteroid 265594 Keletiágnes.
In 2017, she was announced laureate of the Israel Prize in the field of sports.
Keleti has been the oldest Hungarian Olympic champion since Sándor Tarics, one of the victorious water polo players at the 1956 Olympics, died on May 21 2016 aged 102.
She became the oldest living Olympic champion when Lydia Wideman, Finland’s Winter Olympic 10 kilometres cross-country gold medallist at Oslo 1952, died on April 13 2019 aged 98.
On October 8 this year, Keleti also became the oldest living Olympic medallist following the death at the age of 100 of John Russell, who won an equestrian team bronze with the United States at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Russell had become the oldest living Olympic medallist on August 17 this year following the death of Sweden’s 1948 4x400m bronze medallist Folke Alnevik, who had been born 33 days before him.
According to the Olympedia website, Russell served the Second World War, earning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for wounds he received at Cassino in Italy. After the war, Russell, who retired as a lieutenant colonel and was always called "The Colonel", competed at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
In 1956 he became officer in charge of the US modern pentathlon team, whom he coached for six Olympics and 22 World Championships. Russell was inducted into the International Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2001 and in 2010 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Equestrian Federation.
Alnevik took up track and field athletics in school, but he Second World War delayed the start of his international career until after the conflict. He won his first international 4x400m bronze medal at the 1946 European Championships. After replicating that achievement in London two years later he pursued a career in the military which saw him working at one point with the United Nations.
The year of 2020 witnessed the death of several other notably longstanding Olympic competitors.
Among those marked by the Oldest Olympians site was John Lysak, the oldest known living Olympian who competed for the US in the folding kayak doubles at the Berlin 1936 Berlin Games. It was not until September this year that there was confirmation Lysak had died on January 8, aged 105 years and 45 days - making him the fourth longest-lived Olympian of all time.
Serbian gymnast Sreten Stefanović, born on November 17 1916, died on February 18 at the age of 103. Stefanović represented Yugoslavia in the gymnastics tournament at Helsinki 1952, where he placed 19th in the team all-around and had a best individual finish of joint 67th in the rings. He also attended the 1950 World Championships and was a seven-time national champion from 1947 until his 1954 retirement due to injury.
Swedish cross-country skier Märta Norberg, born on September 19 1922, died on December 19 at the age of 98. Norberg took part in the inaugural cross-country skiing event for women, the 10 kilometres race, at the Oslo 1952 Olympics and missed the podium by only three seconds, finishing fourth.
She earned world bronze medals in 1954 and 1958 in the 3x5km relay, and also won a total of nine national titles. At the time of her death she was the oldest living Swedish Olympian.
Ukrainian wrestler Ivan Bohdan, born on February 29, 1928 died overnight between December 24 and 25 at the age of 92. Bohdan represented the Soviet Union in Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestling at the Rome 1960 Olympics, where he won the gold medal. He was also world champion in 1958 and 1961.
Meanwhile two of the oldest surviving Olympians celebrated their 100th birthdays last month - Norway’s Trygve Brudevold, a bobsledder at the 1952 and 1956 Winter Games, who reached his centenary on December 19, and US swimmer Iris Cummings, whose birthday fell two days later.
According to the list collated by Oldest Olympians, the closetst Olympic champion behind Keleti is Vasily Borisov, who won a gold medal in shooting at the Melbourne 1956 Games, and who turned 98 on December 12 last year.
In the list of oldest Olympians, Keleti currently stands 10th, behind Brudevold and Cummings.
The seven athletes above them in the list are, in ascending order, Paul Makler Jr of the United States, a fencer who appeared at the 1952 Olympics, Hans Pfann, a German gymnast who contested the 1952 and 1956 Games, Alejandro Quiroz of Mexico, a modern pentathlete at the London 1948 Olympics, Marko Racic, who competed for Yugoslavia at the London Games in athletics, Celina Seghi of Italy, an Alpine skier at the 1948 and 1952 Winter Olympics, and Canada’s Dave Howard, who sailed at the 1956 Games.
The oldest living Olympian is also a sailor, Uruguay’s Felix Sienra, who competed at the 1948 London Games and is due to celebrate his 105th birthday on January 21.