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.
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:
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.