Joe Wheater

Today on Oldest Olympians we are looking into the story of another Olympian who is certainly deceased, but for whom mystery nonetheless surrounds them: Joe Wheater, born October 6, 1918.

(Wheater, from a feature in Australian Clay Target Shooting News, August 2003, pg. 28-30)

Wheater came into competitive sport shooting somewhat later in life but, when he arrived, he wasted no time in demonstrating his prowess as being among Great Britain’s best. Over the course of his career, he won over 60 English titles, appeared in three editions of the Olympic trap shooting competition (1956, 1960, and 1964), and set a world record in clay target shooting in 1956. While his best finish at the Games was sixth in 1960, he earned several medals in the sport at the European Championships over the years.

One would assume that a sportsman with such a distinguished record would be among the last candidates for being involved with an “Olympic mystery” but, as we have seen, mysteries can occur in unexpected places. In Wheater’s case, there are numerous websites that continue to list him among the living, and thus for many years we made the assumption that he was still alive. One website, however, intrigued us, as it explicitly listed Wheater as deceased:

https://www.keithcoyle.com/about

We contacted the owner of the website, Keith Coyle, who informed us that Wheater had sold his shooting grounds in the late 1990s and then retired. While living abroad in 2009, Coyle was informed by friends that Wheater had died, but unfortunately could not locate any obituaries to confirm this fact. We passed this information on to the dedicated team of researchers at the OlyMADMen, but they were unable to come up with any records concerning his death. Earlier this year, one member did locate a probate record for a Joseph Wheater who died November 24, 2011 near Leeds, but unfortunately there was insufficient information to determine that this was the Olympian, and, moreover, it did not align with Coyle’s information.

Given all of this, we are left wondering: when did Joe Wheater die and how did such a notable sportsman manage to elude everyone’s attention when he did? Many sources still list him as being alive, or as having been alive more recently than 2009, which is not surprising given that one would assume that at least one obituary would have been published for him. Until we can locate additional information, Wheater will remain among our Olympic mysteries.

Leo Sylvestre

Today on Oldest Olympians we are focusing on the case of Canadian speed skater Leo Sylvestre, an athlete who is certainly deceased, but nonetheless presents a mystery worth raising here on our blog.

Sylvestre was relatively successful on the domestic scene, but had less luck when he represented his country at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. He was entered in all four speed skating events at the Games, but only started in the 500 metres, where he was eliminated in round one. He continued to compete at home, but eventually settled into a career as a coach and trainer in his sport of choice.

We here at Oldest Olympians believed that we had determined his fate nearly a decade ago when we discovered a report of a Mrs. Leo Sylvestre, who died while giving birth in January 1953. Mrs. Sylvestre had been in a car accident three months earlier that had taken the life of her husband. There was, however, nothing to suggest that the Leo Sylvestre mentioned in the report was the Olympian, as it was not an uncommon name.

When we shared this finding, however, Arild Gjerde, a Norwegian Olympic expert, related a story he had heard “about a Canadian speed skater […] who was killed in a car crash. His pregnant wife was severely injured and died some times later giving birth to her child.” This seemed to be confirmation that the Leo Sylvestre in the article was the Olympic speed skater.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hNMwAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Ct8FAAAAIBAJ&pg=6370,4409496&dq=leo-sylvestre&hl=en

There was just one problem. According to the Quebec Death Index, as well as research conducted by other Olympic historians, the Leo Sylvestre who died in the car accident was born January 29, 1918. While it would not be impossible for a speed skater to compete at the Olympics at the age of 14, it seemed very unlikely.

Our theory was completely debunked by a solitary report that we uncovered many years later that listed Sylvestre as alive and working as a coach in his native Quebec. It remains the only evidence that we have located of his being alive after the other Leo Sylvestre died in the car accident:

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/22695872/sylvestre_alive/

Other researchers also discovered that the Olympic Sylvestre’s full name was Joseph Henry Léopold Sylvestre, and that he was born on December 14, 1912 in Montreal, Quebec. We have not been able to uncover any information about his death, although we know that he is deceased. Our research, therefore, continues, despite having uncovered enough Olympic mystery (or at least coincidence) for one speed skater’s lifetime.

Chai Hon Yam

Today on Oldest Olympians, we are going back to looking at just one individual: Chai Hon Yam. Chai was the lone member of Singapore’s field hockey squad at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with Chinese ancestry. Despite winning two of its three matches in the preliminary round, the nation failed to advance to the semifinals because it was in the same pool as India, the upcoming gold medalists. They then lost all three of their classification round matches and placed eighth overall.

Chai was prominent in the region not only on the basis of his domestic field hockey performances, but also due to his notable career in the aviation industry. Working for Malayan Airlines (later Malaysian Airlines, after the company split to have separate airlines for Malaysia and Singapore), his contributions to engineering and technical services were key in the firm’s expansion, and he was later made an honorary member of the Association of Asian Aerospace Professionals.

(Chai, right, pictured at Red Sports)

Due to his notability, we know that he was alive at least as recently as 2014, when he was photographed at a banquet honoring sports pioneers. Therefore, he is well within the range of where we would list someone as being alive. Recently, however, we came across the obituary of a man by the same name who died December 7, 2017 at the age of 90:

His age in the obituary would make him one year older than the Olympian, but we know that it is customary in certain cultures to begin one’s age count at one rather than zero. Moreover, his name is relatively uncommon and the picture in the obituary seems to resemble the Olympian from the 2014 banquet. The complication, however, is that there is no smoking gun, such as a birthdate or explicit mention of his field hockey or aviation careers, and all of our contact leads came up empty. Given that he was living recently, we would hate to mistakenly list him as deceased, as we have had cases in the past where a surprising amount of similar information about an individual turned out to be merely a coincidence. For the time being, we have elected to leave him on the list of living Olympians, but we are posting this blog as a major caveat that he may very likely be deceased.