Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games, Part III

Today we are concluding our series that looks into the last survivors of early Olympic Games. As a reminder, this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future.

Cecil Smith – Member of Canada’s figure skating delegation to the 1924 and 1928 Winter Olympics

Cecil Smith, born September 14, 1908, won her first figure skating medals at the Canadian national championships in 1923, paving the way for her to become the first woman to represent her country at the Olympics when she made her debut at the 1924 Chamonix Games. There she was sixth in the singles and seventh in the pairs with Melville Rogers. She made a second appearance at the Winter Olympics in 1924 in St. Moritz, where she was fifth in the singles, but the highlight of her career came at the 1930 World Championships, where she won silver behind Norway’s Sonja Henie. Smith continued earning national medals through 1933, but then settled into private life. She died on November 9, 1997, at the age of 89 years, 56 days, which makes her the last surviving competitor that we could find from the 1924 Chamonix Olympics. With the relatively low number of participants at the Winter Games compared to the Summer ones (in 1924, for example, Chamonix had less than 10% of the competitors as Paris), it is likely that Smith was truly the last survivor, but there is also a lot of missing information from these Games as well, making it equally possible that a later survivor will be uncovered in the future.

Hans Kleppen – Member of Norway’s ski jumping delegation to the 1928 and 1932 Winter Olympics

The case of Hans Kleppen, born March 16, 1907, is relatively well-known. He represented Norway in ski jumping at the 1928 St. Moritz Olympics, but fell and placed 36th, near the bottom of the list of finishers. He made up for this the following year, however, when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships. He was selected to represent his country once more at the 1932 Lake Placid Games, but only as a substitute, and he did not end up competing. A taxi driver and driving instructor by trade, he found considerable fame later in life due to his longevity, as he was for several years Norway’s oldest living Olympian at a time when the public had begun to pay attention to such distinctions. He died on April 12, 2009, at the age of 102 years, 27 days, which made him the last known competitor from the 1928 St. Moritz Games and, arguably, the final one from the sparsely-attended 1932 Lake Placid Olympics as well. The last survivor of the 1932 Games who actually participated, however, was British figure skater Cecilia Colledge, born November 28, 1920, who died April 12, 2008 at the age of 87 years, 136 days. That Colledge would hold this title is of little surprise: when she debuted in 1932 at the age of 11 years, 73 days, she became the youngest-ever Winter Olympian, a feat that has never been surpassed.

Simone Schaller – Member of the track and field delegation of the United States to the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics

The 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, held in the middle of the Great Depression, was much more poorly attended than several previous iterations of the Games. Track athlete Simone Schaller, born August 22, 1912, was one of the competitors and she did fairly well, just missing the podium in the 80 metres hurdles in fourth. In the same event at the 1936 Berlin Games, she was eliminated in the semifinals. World War II then ended any chance that her career would continue, and she settled into private life, working at a California high school and not granting any interviews in her later years. Nonetheless, she was known to be alive and, when she died on October 20, 2016, at the age of 104 years, 59 days, she was noted as being the last survivor of the 1932 Los Angeles Games, as well as the oldest living Olympian overall. There was, however, still a survivor from an earlier edition of the Games.

Carla Marangoni – Member of the Italian gymnastics delegation to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics

That distinction went to gymnast Carla Marangoni, born November 13, 1915, who had won a silver medal with the Italian team at the age of only 12 at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. This was the extent of her sporting career, however, and she later worked for the transportation department in her local Pavia. By the time of her 100th birthday, however, she was already known not only as the oldest living Italian Olympian, but as the last survivor of the 1928 Amsterdam Games. This was in stark contrast to her teammate Bianca Ambrosetti who, already ill with tuberculosis during the Games, died in 1929 at the age of only 15, making her the shortest-lived Olympic competitor. Marangoni, however, outlived even Schaller and, when she died on January 18, 2018, aged 102 years, 66 days, she had become the Olympian who lived the longest after her Olympic appearance.


Although we know of no living competitors from the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics, it seems a little premature to declare a last survivor when there are still eight living participants from the 1936 Berlin Games. As it stands, however, the last survivor we known of from the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games is Romanian figure skater Maria Popp, born November 18, 1919, who died August 21, 2015. Popp did not start in her event, however, which leaves Czech alpine skier Hilde Walterová, born February 21, 1915, who died April 19, 2013 at the age of 98 years, 57 days, the last surviving actual competitor. With that information, we conclude our series on the last survivors of early Olympic Games. We hope that you have enjoyed these posts, and that you will join us next week when we blog about a new topic!

Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games, Part II

Today we are going to continue our look into the last survivors of early Olympic Games. As a reminder, this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future.

Willem Winkelman – Member of the Dutch track and field delegation to the 1908 London Games

Willem Winkelman, born July 14, 1887, represented the Netherlands in two track events at the 1908 London Olympics. He was eliminated in the opening round of the 3,500 metres walk (the only time this event was held at the Games) and gave up part way through his heat of the 10-mile walk (another event held only in 1908). Winkelman recalled that, at the time, sport was not taken seriously where he was from and thus the 1908 Olympics were the pinnacle of his career. Nonetheless, by the time of his death on July 1, 1990, at the age of 102 years, 352 days, the importance of international sport was well-cemented into the fabric of global life. Thus Winkelman was recognized widely for his longevity and connection to the early Olympics and, in almost 30 years, no one else has been discovered that can claim the mantle of last survivor of the 1908 London Games.

Jalmari Kivenheimo – Member of Finland’s gymnastic delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Games

Jalmari Kivenheimo, born September 25, 1889, was a member of the Finnish gymnastics squad that won the silver medal in the free system team all-around event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics (other events in 1912 required competitors to use either the European or Swedish systems). This was his only major international competition, and he later earned a PhD in botany and worked as a teacher. By the time of his death on October 29, 1994, at the age of 105 years, 34 days, he was acknowledged in an English-language bulletin as the oldest living Olympian, the last survivor of the 1912 Stockholm Games, and the longest-lived Olympic medalist ever. Almost 25 years later, he still holds that latter distinction, and it was only as of today, when John Lysak reached the age of 105 years, 35 days, that Kivenheimo has dropped from the list of the top five longest-lived Olympians of all-time.

Aileen Riggin – Member of the aquatic delegations of the United States to the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics

Aileen Riggin, born May 2, 1906, was perhaps the first of the last survivors who was well-known for reasons other than her longevity. At the age of 14, she won the springboard diving event for the United States at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, also placing fifth in the plain high competition. She returned in 1924 and took silver in the springboard, as well as bronze in the 100 metres backstroke swimming tournament. She then had a successful career as an aquatic professional, performing in exhibitions and appearing in films, before changing careers and working as a journalist. She was made a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967. Although she died at the age of “only” 96 years, 170 days on October 19, 2002, we have been unable to locate another candidate for the last survivor of the 1920 Antwerp Games, although it is certainly possible, given how much data on this edition we are missing, that another contender will emerge in the future.

(Pavelić, pictured in his obituary in The Daily Greenwich)

Ivo Pavelić – Member of Yugoslavia’s swimming delegation to the 1924 Paris Games

The Olympic career of Ivo Pavelić, born February 10, 1908, was brief: he represented Yugoslavia in the 200 metres breaststroke event at the 1924 Paris Games and was eliminated in the opening round. He was more successful as a footballer, making several appearances with the national team between 1927 and 1930 and winning the national championship in the latter year. By career he was a lawyer who moved to Switzerland during World War II, but he became a businessman in Greenwich, Connecticut after the conflict. Due to his brief Olympic appearance, and the fact that he emigrated to the United States, it came as a surprise in 2011 that he had still been alive and died on February 22 at the age of 103 years, 12 days, making him the last known living survivor of the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Pavelić’s death begins our personal experience with last living survivors of the Games, as discussion surrounding his obituary was the first time that we at Oldest Olympians had encountered the concept, and thus it seems like a good place to stop for today. Next week, our final part of this series will examine the 1928 and 1932 Summer Olympics, as well look into the Winter Games. We hope that you will join us!

Last Survivors of Early Olympic Games

Today we are going to begin looking into a topic that is very much related to Oldest Olympians: the last survivors of early Olympic Games. While in many cases these individuals lived to be over 100, not all of them did, and in two cases they did not even reach the age of 90, which means that they would have been ineligible for the Oldest Olympians table. The last survivor, of course, is not necessarily the longest-lived, as the case of Walter Walsh shows. Walsh is the longest-lived Olympian, but he competed in his 40s at the 1948 London Games, and thus there are many competitors from that edition who survived him.

One should also keep in mind that this data is based on the best of our knowledge; with so much missing information on athlete deaths, particularly from the early Games, it is possible that the last survivor died in obscurity, or without anyone realizing that they were the last one. Thus, as with all considerations regarding the Oldest Olympians, this information might change in the future. Nonetheless, we will begin this series with a look into the earliest editions, for which information about the competitors is the least well-known.

Dimitrios Loundras – Member of the Greek gymnastics delegation to the 1896 Athens Games

At 10 years and 216 days old, Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, born September 6, 1885, was the youngest participant at the 1896 Athens Games, so it is not surprising that he was the last survivor as well. Loundras came in third in the team parallel bars event, which at the time would not have earned him a prize (the gold-silver-bronze medal structure did not emerge until 1904), but retroactively he is considered a bronze medalist. He later served in the Greek Navy and, perhaps more importantly, with the Hellenic Olympic Committee. It is because of this latter role that we know of his participation in the Games, as many of the names of the second- and third-place finishers of his event (as well as of the 1896 competitors in general) are unknown or have been lost. His date of death is given as February 15 of either 1970 or 1971, so he was aged 84 or 85 years and 162 days, but either way he was the last known living connection to the first Olympic Games. Given how much missing information there is about these Games, however, it is very possible that another individual may have actually survived longer.

Lucien Démanet – Member of the French gymnastic delegations to the 1900 and 1920 Summer Olympics

Lucien Démanet, born December 6, 1874, was also a gymnast, but unlike Loundras he was well into adulthood when he débuted at the 1900 Paris Games, where he came in third among 135 competitors in the individual all-around. Again, there were no bronze medals at this edition, although he is considered a medalist retrospectively. In 1920, however, he received an actual bronze medal with the French team in the all-around event at the age of 45. In-between, he won three medals, one gold and two bronze, at the 1905 World Championships. Démanet died March 16, 1979 at the age of 104 years, 100 days, and was the last known survivor of the 1900 Games. As with 1896, of course, there are many unknown competitors, including a French boy of about seven years who helped the Dutch team win the coxed pairs event. It is possible, therefore, that a younger participant survived Démanet.

(Dellert, pictured with his 1904 participation medals, in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, on November 8, 1984)

John Dellert – Member of the Concordia Turnverein gymnastic delegation to the 1904 St. Louis Games

John Dellert, born November 18, 1884, was the third of the last survivors who was both a gymnast and a competitor from the host country. Neither is surprising, as gymnasts are often younger, on average, than competitors in other sports, and the host countries of early Games tended to have far larger delegations than those of other nations, making the last survivor statistically more likely to come from there. Unlike the Loundras and Démanet, however, we know about him despite the fact that he was not a top performer at the Games: he placed no higher than 30th in the individual events and was fourth in the team all-round. He was also selected to compete at the 1908 Rome Olympics, but an injury prevented him from attending. He worked a series of manual labour jobs throughout his life and died February 3, 1985, aged 100 years, 77 days, and while there is a lot of missing information on the 1904 St. Louis Games, he is nonetheless a strong candidate for the last survivor.

Vahram Papazyan – Armenian track and field athlete at the 1906 Athens Intercalated Games

There are some things that are unclear about Vahram Papazyan, but two conjectures seem very likely: that he was the youngest competitor at the 1906 Intercalated Games held in Athens, and that he was the last survivor. In the former case, his date of birth is usually seen as September 12, 1892, but his obituary and Social Security Death Index record list him as being born in 1893. This latter date seems unlikely given contemporary pictures of the athlete, but either way he would have been the youngest participant when he competed in the 800 and 1,500 metre races, being eliminated in the opening round. He is usually considered as having represented Turkey, although he was arguably an individual participant who happened to come from the Ottoman Empire. At the 1912 Stockholm Games, however, he was an official representative of the nation and competed in the same two events, with similar results. He later moved to the United States and worked as an electrical engineer, remaining there for the rest of his life and dying March 7, 1986 at the age of, at most, 93 years and 176 days. Given this (relatively) young age, and the fact that the 1906 Games are now considered unofficial and thus have not been studied as much as other editions, it remains possible that someone will be discovered who survived longer than Papazyan.

That seems like enough for one post, so we will continue this series with second and third entries in the coming weeks. Before we end today, however, we would like thank Fabio Montermini, who undertook research and used his contacts to discover that one of our Bronze Medal Mysteries, Italian sailor Antonio Cosentino, died in 1993 in Naples. We greatly appreciate the work that he did to solve this mystery and offer him our sincere thanks!

Ray Robinson

It has been about two months since we last featured a mystery about an Olympic medalist, but today we have another South African to discuss: cyclist Ray Robinson, born September 3, 1929, who would have recently turned 90 if still alive

(Ray Robinson, pictured far left, at Classic Lightweights UK)

Robinson had a very successful run at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, winning silver in the tandem sprint with Tommy Shardelow and bronze in the 1,000 metres time trial. He also placed fifth in the sprint. He and Shardelow competed again at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but were eliminated in the quarterfinals. He continued riding until 1960 but, unfortunately, due to his relatively common name (and the fact that results tend to get muddled with those of Sugar Ray Robinson), we have been unable to locate more about his career or later life.

Even though English is a common language in South Africa (certainly at the time of Robinson’s career), it is not particularly surprising to have a medal mystery from this country; in fact, we have covered several in the past. Considering the many racial tensions that existed during that era of national sport and its subsequent tarnished legacy, added to the commonality of his name, it is not surprising that there are few online resources available to explore his career. What does make him unique, however, is that he is arguably our most decorated Olympic mystery. We have covered the case of Belgian figure skater Micheline Lannoy, our only Olympic gold medal mystery, but Robinson is one of only two Olympic medal mysteries to have earned more than one medal, and the other, Austrian canoeist Herbert Wiedermann, won bronze twice.

This is why we have chosen to highlight Robinson in today’s blog as a crucial portion of Olympic history, because we suspect that the information must be out there, and that it is either inaccessible to us or we have simply missed it. On our last day at the Olympic Studies Center in Lausanne, we even attempted to scour some rare books on South African sports history for clues about his career and fate, but to no avail. Left with limited options we turn to you, our readers, in the hopes that someone will be able to solve this important Olympic mystery.