How Long Did They Enjoy Their Olympic Memories?

OlympStats reader David Clark of Australia asked, “What is the shortest or longest time an Olympian has been able to enjoy their Olympic medal prior to their death?” A great question and one we had to work on a little bit to get all the details.

Fully 45 athletes have died within one year of winning their final Olympic medal. Göpf Kottmann, a Swiss rower from 1964, died only 22 days after winning his single sculls bronze medal, closely followed by Swedish fencer Gösta Algren, who lived only 23 days after his fencing team épée silver in 1936. American archer G. C. Spencer won a gold medal in the 1904 team archery event, but enjoyed it for only 28 days, although he was 64-years-old when he won his medal. Here are the 36 that died within 275 days of winning an Olympic medal – an arbitrary number we chose because it gets us to the 1948 Czechoslovakian ice hockey airplane tragedy, in which six of their players died in the crash of their charter plane flying from Paris to London for a match.

Age2Dth Died Name Gdr NOC Ssn Year Spt Event Med YB YE YD
0-022 32 Göpf Kottmann M SUI S 1964 ROW Single Sculls B 1932 1964 1964
0-023 30 Gösta Almgren M SWE S 1936 FEN Épée Team S 1906 1936 1936
0-028 64 G. C. Spencer M USA S 1904 ARC Team G 1840 1904 1904
0-048 27 Rich Sanders M USA S 1972 WRE Light-Middle FS S 1945 1972 1972
0-062 24 Piet Salomons M NED S 1948 WAP Water Polo B 1924 1948 1948
0-068 30 Miguel Caldés M CUB S 2000 BSB Baseball S 1970 2000 2000
0-081 23 José de Figueroa M ESP S 1920 POL Polo S 1897 1920 1920
0-088 35 David Bratton M USA S 1904 WAP Water Polo G 1869 1904 1904
0-091 20 Bekzat Sattarkhanov M KAZ S 2000 BOX Light-Middleweight G 1980 2000 2000
0-101 42 John Black M CAN S 1924 SHO Trap Team S 1882 1924 1924
0-103 22 Waldemar Malak M POL S 1992 WLT Middle-Heavy B 1970 1992 1992
0-106 33 Gösta Magnusson M SWE S 1948 WLT Light-Heavy B 1915 1948 1948
0-113 15 Bianca Ambrosetti F ITA S 1928 GYM Team All-Around S 1914 1928 1929
0-122 26 George Van Cleaf M USA S 1904 WAP Water Polo G 1879 1904 1905
0-126 26 Yuliya Riabchynska F URS S 1972 CAN K1-500 m G 1947 1972 1973
0-130 26 John B. Taylor M USA S 1908 ATH 1600 medley relay G 1882 1908 1908
0-143 23 Viktor Blinov M URS W 1968 ICH Ice Hockey G 1945 1968 1968
0-150 45 Selwin Calverley M GBR S 1900 SAI 20+ Ton S 1855 1900 1900
0-151 22 Ivo Van Damme M BEL S 1976 ATH 1500 metres S 1954 1976 1976
0-161 24 Konrad Hirsch M SWE S 1924 FTB Football B 1900 1924 1924
0-205 27 Joseph Olivier M FRA S 1900 RUG Rugby G 1874 1900 1901
0-212 59 Petre Roşca M ROU S 1980 EQU Dressage Team B 1922 1980 1981
0-212 25 Kostas Tsiklitiras M GRE S 1912 ATH Standing High Jump B 1888 1912 1913
0-217 25 Kostas Tsiklitiras M GRE S 1912 ATH Standing Long Jump G 1888 1912 1913
0-218 26 Sayed Jaffar M IND S 1936 HOK Hockey G 1911 1936 1937
0-222 31 Radivoj Korać M YUG S 1968 BAS Basketball S 1938 1968 1969
0-240 33 George Calnan M USA S 1932 FEN Épée Team B 1900 1932 1933
0-246 33 George Calnan M USA S 1932 FEN Foil Team B 1900 1932 1933
0-255 24 George Saling M USA S 1932 ATH 110 m hurdles G 1909 1932 1933
0-269 24 Miloslav Bednařík M TCH S 1988 SHO Trap S 1965 1988 1989
0-274 30 Zdeněk Jarkovský M TCH W 1948 ICH Ice Hockey S 1918 1948 1948
0-274 22 Miloslav Pokorný M TCH W 1948 ICH Ice Hockey S 1926 1948 1948
0-274 25 Karel Stibor M TCH W 1948 ICH Ice Hockey S 1923 1948 1948
0-274 31 Vilibald Šťovík M TCH W 1948 ICH Ice Hockey S 1917 1948 1948
0-274 34 Ladislav Troják M TCH W 1948 ICH Ice Hockey S 1914 1948 1948

Bekzat Sattarkhanov

Now who was able to enjoy their medal for the longest time? Fifty-seven (57) now deceased Olympic medalists lived 75 or more years after winning their Olympic medal, led by Finnish gymnast Jalmari Kivenheimo, who won a silver medal in 1912 and lived 82 years, 111 days more (although this record is being broken by Clara Marangoni, who is still living – see below). American diver Aileen Riggin lived longer than any gold medalist after winning that gold, as she survived 82 years, 51 days after her victory in 1920 at age 14 – although technically this record has already been broken by a living Olympian – see the note at the end of the following table. Here are all those who lived 78 or more years after winning an Olympic medal:

Age2Dth Died Name Gdr NOC Ssn Year Spt Event Med YB YE YD
82-111 105 Jalmari Kivenheimo M FIN S 1912 GYM Team All-Around S 1889 1912 1994
82-051 96 Aileen Riggin F USA S 1920 DIV Springboard G 1906 1920 2002
80-229 105 Harry Prieste M USA S 1920 DIV Platform B 1896 1920 2001
80-024 102 Babe Rockefeller M USA S 1924 ROW Coxed Eights G 1902 1924 2004
79-185 95 Carolina Tronconi F ITA S 1928 GYM Team All-Around S 1913 1928 2008
79-151 97 Cissie Stewart F GBR S 1928 SWI 4 x 100 m FS relay S 1911 1928 2008
79-137 97 Gertrude Ederle F USA S 1924 SWI 400 m FS B 1906 1924 2003
79-112 95 Carin Nilsson F SWE S 1920 SWI 4 x 100 m FS relay B 1904 1920 1999
79-066 97 Jam Handy M USA S 1904 SWI 400 m Breaststroke B 1886 1904 1983
79-044 99 Abel Kiviat M USA S 1912 ATH 1500 m S 1892 1912 1991
78-363 101 Attilio Pavesi M ITA S 1932 CYC Road Race Indiv G 1910 1932 2011
78-357 103 Carmelo Camet M ARG S 1928 FEN Foil Team B 1904 1928 2007
78-229 105 Lucien Démanet M FRA S 1900 GYM Individual All-Around B 1874 1900 1979
78-220 99 Roger Beaufrand M FRA S 1928 CYC Sprint G 1908 1928 2007
78-210 101 Herman Brix M USA S 1928 ATH Shot Put S 1906 1928 2007
78-093 96 Aileen Riggin F USA S 1924 DIV Springboard S 1906 1924 2002
78-064 98 Harry Glancy M USA S 1924 SWI 4 x 200 m FS relay G 1904 1924 2002
78-057 96 Max Décugis M FRA S 1900 TEN Doubles S 1882 1900 1978
78-037 98 Georg Werner M SWE S 1924 SWI 4 x 200 m FS relay B 1904 1924 2002

Aileen Riggin
The above record is at risk of being broken by a still-living Olympian. Evelyn Furtsch was an American sprinter who won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics in the 4×100 relay, and is still alive as of October 2014 – 82 years, and about 90 days, after winning her Olympic medal.

So then we started thinking – who are the Olympians, not just medalists, who lived for the longest time or the shortest time after their final Olympic appearance? Here we measured the time not from the end of their event, but from the day of the Closing Ceremony.

Sadly, eight (8) Olympians did not live to see the Closing Ceremony. We know of the 11 Israelis who were murdered at München in 1972, with four of those having already competed as Olympians. Only two athletes died while competing in the Olympics – Knut Enemark Jensen, a Danish cyclist who succumbed during the 1960 cycling team time trial; and Francisco Lazaro, a Portuguese marathoner who died the day after the 1912 marathon.

Two athletes died during the Games after competing but not from the effects of the events or from being cowardly murdered. After losing his first match in 1936 featherweight boxing, Romanian Nicolae Berechet developed a carbuncle which quickly spread into blood poisoning and in the pre-antibiotic days, he died only three days after his Olympic bout, and two days before the Closing Ceremony. In 1956, Italian rower Arrigo Meniccoci competed in coxed eights, but after his event ended, he went for a car ride and was killed in a crash 7 days before the Closing Ceremony.

This does not include athletes who died in training, but never actually competed in the Olympics, such as Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger who died the day before the 2010 Vancouver Opening Ceremony during a training run; Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypecki, the British/Polish luger who likewise died in training before the 1964 Innsbruck Games; Czechoslovak gymnast Eliska Mišaková, who developed polio after arriving in London for the 1948 Olympics, and died the day before the Opening Ceremony; or Australian downhiller skiier Ross Milne, who died before the Innsbruck Games after crashing on a training run.

Here are all the Olympians who died less than 7 weeks after the Closing Ceremony of an Olympics:

Age2Dth AgeDth Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport LastOly YrBth YrDth
-16 days 23 Knud Enemark Jensen M S DEN CYC 1960 1936 1960
-12 days 19 Francisco Lázaro M S POR ATH 1912 1891 1912
-7 days 24 Arrigo Menicocci M S ITA ROW 1956 1933 1956
-6 days 28 David Berger M S ISR WLT 1972 1944 1972
-6 days 28 Ze'ev Friedman M S ISR WLT 1972 1944 1972
-6 days 31 Yossef Romano M S ISR WLT 1972 1940 1972
-6 days 24 Eliezer Halfin M S ISR WRE 1972 1948 1972
-2 days 21 Nicolae Berechet M S ROU BOX 1936 1915 1936
0-007 23 Tony Zasada M S CAN ROW 1984 1960 1984
0-007 23 Moritz Heidegger M W LIE BOB 1956 1932 1956
0-013 32 Göpf Kottmann M S SUI ROW 1964 1932 1964
0-014 26 Jonatan Johansson M W SWE SNB 2006 1980 2006
0-015 29 Gösta Almgren M S SWE FEN 1936 1906 1936
0-027 23 Aurelio Janet M S CUB ATH 1968 1945 1968
0-029 22 Thomas Pleisch M W SUI ICH 1936 1913 1936
0-034 64 G. C. Spencer M S USA ARC 1904 1840 1904
0-037 27 Rich Sanders M S USA WRE 1972 1945 1972
0-042 21 Leo Portelance M S CAN SWI 1952 1931 1952
0-046 24 George Gardiner M S GBR WRE 1924 1900 1924

Knud Enemark Jensen

What about those who lived the longest after their final Olympic appearance? Thirteen (13) Olympians lived for 80 or more years after they left the Olympic stage. Here is the list:

Age2Dth AgeDth Name Gdr Ssn NOC Sport LstOly YrBth YrDth
86-210 103 Ivo Pavelić M S YUG SWI 1924 1908 2011
85-286 104 Signe Johansson F S SWE DIV 1924 1905 2010
82-311 102 Rezső Kende M S HUN GYM 1928 1908 2011
82-110 98 Maud Sundberg F S SWE ATH 1928 1911 2010
82-094 105 Jalmari Kivenheimo M S FIN GYM 1912 1889 1994
81-343 99 Helen Johns F S USA SWI 1932 1914 2014
81-338 102 Willem Winkelman M S NED ATH 1908 1887 1990
81-183 99 Elsa Andersson F S SWE DIV 1912 1894 1994
81-178 104 Andrejs Kapmals M S RUS ATH 1912 1889 1994
81-053 102 Hans Kleppen M W NOR SKJ 1928 1907 2009
80-228 104 Harry Prieste M S USA DIV 1920 1896 2001
80-141 100 John Dellert M S USA GYM 1904 1884 1985
80-014 102 Babe Rockefeller M S USA ROW 1924 1902 2004

There are two additions to this list still alive – Clara Marangoni, an Italian gymnast from the 1928 Olympics, is the only known Olympian still alive who competed at the Amsterdam Games – she is now in her 86th year after her final Olympic appearance, and is close to bettering Pavelić’s mark; and Evelyn Furtsch, as mentioned above, now 82 years after her Olympic appearance.

While researching this topic we found another interesting tidbit. How many Olympic athletes never saw their 20th birthday? Sadly, it has happened eight times. An Italian gymnast from 1928, Bianca Ambrosetti, was the youngest, dying at age 15 after competing when she was 14. Three on this list died in the 1961 US Figure Skating tragedy when their plane crashed in Belgium while travelling to the 1962 World Championships. Here is the list of Olympic teenagers who died:

AgeDth Name Gender Season NOC Sport Oly YrBth YrDth
15 Bianca Ambrosetti F S ITA GYM 1928 1914 1929
17 Laurie Owen F W USA FSK 1960 1944 1961
18 Ray Hadley Jr. M W USA FSK 1960 1943 1961
18 Viktoriya Dimitrova F W BUL FSK 1992 1976 1994
19 Marián Havlíček M S TCH CAN 1972 1953 1972
19 Amar Garibović M W SRB CCS 2010 1991 2010
19 Ila Ray Hadley F W USA FSK 1960 1942 1961
19 Sandra Schmitt F W GER FRS 1998 1981 2000

What about the other end of the spectrum? Fortunately, many Olympians have lived long, full lives. At least fifty-nine (59) Olympians have died after their 100th birthday (this is not always easy to track), led by Walter Walsh, American shooter from 1948, who died earlier in 2014 just short of his 107th birthday – the longest-lived Olympian ever.

So there you have it, David. Thanx for the interesting question and we hope we answered it for you.

5 thoughts on “How Long Did They Enjoy Their Olympic Memories?”

    1. You’re right – but above I only discussed breaking the record for longest surviving gold medalist. We could add a comment about Marangoni. Thanx for spotting that.

  1. Adolf Kiefer (swimming 1936) still going strong !!
    Last I heard anyway..
    Great work, great research…
    Elliott Denman USA 1956 (Track and field 50K racewalk)..
    Was 80 on Jan 23, 2014….so it’s 58-plus years since my event in Melbourne…still doing OK….hanging in there…racewalked a
    5K this morning.) Cheers again, E.D.

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