The Oldest Olympians

(Note: The below is from Paul Tchir, aka Canadian Paul, one of our group of OlyMADMen. Paul’s specialty is looking at the oldest Olympians, by sport, by medals, by nation, and almost every permutation thereof, and he is absolutely the world’s expert on this topic. You can find his specific page related to this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Canadian_Paul/Olympics.)

The recent death of American sport shooter Walter Walsh, the longest-lived Olympian, meant that the mantle of “oldest living Olympian” passed to a new title-holder. This distinction went, almost certainly, to Swiss artist Hans Erni, who competed in the art competitions at the 1948 Summer Olympics. Born on 21 February 1909 in Lucrene, Erni achieved international fame as a painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and ceramist and is, as of 9 July 2014, the third longest-lived Olympian of all time, behind Walsh (who was less than a week shy of his 107th birthday at his death) and American gymnast Rudolf Schrader, the latter of whom competed at the 1904 Summer Olympics and died in January 1981 at the age of 105 years, 307 days. Although there are a handful of Olympians older than Erni whose death has not been confirmed, it seems unlikely that someone would have reached 105 years of age in the era of the internet and escaped any notice whatsoever.

As art competitions were removed from the program after 1948, however, this answer may not satisfy everyone. The oldest Olympian from an athletic competition known to be living is Guo Jie of China, who took part in the men’s discus throw at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Guo, born 16 January 1912 in Dalian, is his nation’s longest-lived competitor, the last member of its delegation to the 1936 Games, and was still physically active at his 102nd birthday. He is one of seven Olympic centenarians known to be living, a list that includes:

  • Swedish diver Ingeborg Sjöqvist, born 19 April 1912, who took part in the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics and was runner-up in platform diving at the 1931 and 1934 European Championships.
  • American athlete Simone Schaller, born 22 August 1912, who participated in the 80 m hurdles tournament in 1932 and 1936 and is the longest-lived American female Olympian.
  • Baron Eduard von Falz-Fein, born 14 September 1912, who represented Liechtenstein in bobsled at the 1936 Winter Olympics and is second behind Norway’s Hans Kleppen, who died in April 2009 at the age of 102 years, 27 days, among the longest-lived Winter Olympians.
  • Sándor Tarics, born 23 September 1913, who was a member of Hungary’s gold medal-winning water polo team in 1936 and is confirmed as the oldest living Olympic champion (the longest-lived Olympic champion is James Stillman Rockefeller, who died in August 2004 at the age of 102 years, 63 days).
  • Evelyn Furtsch, born 17 April 1914, who earned a gold medal with the United States’ 4x100m relay team in 1932 and, earlier this year, surpassed Britain’s Godfrey Rampling as the longest-lived Olympic track and field gold medalist.

Three more Olympians will hopefully join them by the end of 2014: Olga Tőrös (born 4 August 1914), who won a bronze medal for Hungary in women’s team gymnastics in 1936, American John Lysak (born 16 August 1914), who competed in canoeing that same year, and Helen Johns (born 25 September 1914), who won a gold medal with the American team in the 4×100 m freestyle swimming event in 1932. Also worthy of mention is athlete Mien Klaver, born 26 February 1911, who was an alternate for the Dutch team in Furtsch’s event.

Outside of centenarians, Carla Marangoni (born 13 November 1915) is notable as the last known survivor of the 1928 Summer Olympics: she won a silver medal for Italy in the team gymnastics competition that year. Moreover, due to the increased attention that they receive, it is also possible to produce a definitive list of the seven oldest Olympic champions:

Athlete DOB Gdr NOC Spt Yr
Sándor Tarics 23 September 1913 M HUN WAP 1936
Evelyn Furtsch 17 April 1914 F USA ATH 1932
Helen Johns 25  September 1914 F USA SWI 1932
Durward Knowles 2 November 1917 M BAH SAI 1964
Martin Lundström 30  May 1918 M SWE CCS 1948
Adolph Kiefer 27 June 1918 M USA SWI 1936
Jack Günthard 8 January 1920 M SUI GYM 1952

Notes:

  • Durward Knowles also won bronze in 1956 and competed in 1948, 1952, 1960, 1968, 1972, and 1988. He originally competed for GBR in 1948.
  • Martin Lundström won two golds in 1948 and also bronze in 1952.
  • Jack Günthard also won a silver in 1952.

(Note: This is a difficult topic because it is always hard to know if somebody is definitely alive. If any astute readers have information on Olympians over 90 years old, or older Olympians who have recently died, please contact us via this blog.)

8 thoughts on “The Oldest Olympians”

  1. I’d love a post on which Olympians have enjoyed their medal the shortest/longest (ie between the date of winning their medal and their death), if you haven’t already posted something previously.

    1. Great idea – we’ll do it – just queried our databases – 68 Olympic medalists died in the year of their Olympic medal or the next year – 68 Olympic medalists lived 75-82 years after winning their Olympic medal – that is the long and the short of it.

      1. Thanks Bill, look forward to the detail. And in a similar vein, my impression is a surprising number of London 2012 Olympians have died.

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