Holocaust Survivor, Former Olympic Gymnast Wins Israel Prize at 96

Agnes Keleti won 10 Olympic medals in gymnastics after having survived the Holocaust. 'A unique woman, powerful and brilliant,' says prize committee.

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Agnes Keleti displays her Olympic medals.
Agnes Keleti displays her Olympic medals.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

Former Olympic gymnast and Holocaust survivor Agnes Keleti, 96, is the Israel Prize winner in the field of sports, the Education Ministry said Tuesday.

The prize committee noted that "Keleti is a unique woman, powerful and brilliant. A groundbreaking woman, a leader and a role model among all her students in Israel and abroad, who made history and is living among us."

The Hungarian-born Keleti immigrated to Israel in 1957 and is one of the founders of Israeli gymnastics. She led the field for over 50 years, having trained generations of gymnasts and champions.

Agnes Keleti profile.Credit: Kveller/YouTube

Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921, Keleti began practicing swimming and gymnastics at the age of four, but began training properly only at the age of 16.

She survived the Holocaust using forged documents and an alias, and worked as a maid in the countryside and as a factory worker. Her mother and sister were saved by Swedish diplomat and Righteous Gentile Raoul Wallenberg, but her father, aunts and extended family perished in Auschwitz.

After the end of World War II, at the of 24, Keleti began training again, and in 1946 won the "Hungarian champion" title for gymnastics. She held the title for 10 consecutive years until 1956. While she didn’t participate in the 1948 London Olympics due to an injury, she received a silver medal for the team's group exercise.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, at the age of 31, Keleti won four medals – one gold, one silver and two bronze. At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics she won another six medals – four gold and two silver. She also won three medals at the 1954 Gymnastics World Championships.

Thanks to her 10 Olympic medals, Keleti is ranked as the 10th top Olympic gymnast of all times.

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