Oldest Olympians End of Year Fast Facts

With the end of 2019 approaching, we wanted to share some fast facts about the oldest Olympians in the world, partially to continue our commitment to transparency in our research but mostly just for fun and to share some statistics – after all, this is the Olympstats blog!

(The oldest living Olympian, John Lysak, born August 16, 1914, pictured in a July 27, 2008 edition of The Mercury News)

As of today, our full list contains the names of 2647 participants, non-starters, demonstration athletes, and art competitors born between 1910 and 1929 that could be living, 595 of whom we believe to be living for certain. Both of those numbers are up from 2596 and 526 around roughly the same time last year.

We also have 460 Olympians (down from 558 last year) who competed in the 1928, 1932, or 1936 Games, Winter and Summer, who have no date of birth but could be still living. It is worth reminding everyone that the vast majority of athletes that could be living are likely deceased.

We believe that we will have six living Olympic centenarians by the end of the year, up from three at the end of last year, as we do not know of any Olympic centenarians who died in 2019. We also know of seven survivors from the oldest editions of the Olympics with living participants, the 1936 Berlin Games, and no known survivors of this edition died this year.

We’ll try to send out a small update like this at the end of every year and, if you have any suggestions of statistics or information that you would like to see added, please send us a message and we’ll be happy to include it in the next round! Happy New Year to all!

Leo Sylvestre, Part II

As we continue to wrap up loose ends and draw 2019 to a close, we wanted to follow up on a post that we made back in April regarding Canadian speed skater Leo Sylvestre, born December 14, 1912. Sylvestre represented his country at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics where, despite being entered in four events, he only competed in one, the 500 metres, and was eliminated in round one. We had a possible lead on his date of death being in October 1952, but further research determined that this was just a coincidence, as the individual who died in 1952 was too young, while another report showed that the Olympian was still alive in 1962.

(December 28, 1962 report from The Gazette)

Such coincidences are rare, but they do happen. While going through our list of 1930-born Olympians, we looked into the case of British fencer Theresa Offredy, born May 4, 1930, who was part of the British women’s foil team at the 1964 Tokyo Games. We located the record of a Theresa Offredy born May 4, 1929, whose death was recorded in the England and Wales Death Index during the first quarter of 1991. Since it is not uncommon for years of birth to be off by a year (or more), and given the rarity of the name, we assumed that this was the Olympian.

It turned out, however, just to be a substantial coincidence. The woman born in 1929 was Barbara Theresa Offredy, while the Olympian born in 1930 is Theresa Mary Offredy. Research by Olympic historian Ian Morrison demonstrated that Theresa Mary was still alive in at least 2010, confirming that she was not the individual who died c. 1991.

With the knowledge that such coincidences can occur, we turn back to Leo Sylvestre, whose name is much more common than Offredy’s. Thanks to a contribution from Marc Durand, we learned that Sylvestre was deceased in 1981 when his widow received a trophy on his behalf. This narrows his date of death to a period between 1962 and 1981. The best match we could find in the Quebec Death Index was for a Leo Sylvestre born December 13, 1911 who died December 11, 1972.

This individual was born one year and one day off the data that we have for the Olympian, so the most likely answer is that this is the Olympian and that either our data or the index’s data is slightly off. Given what we just posted about coincidences, however, we cannot conclude definitively that this was the Olympian, because we were unable to locate an obituary. Most likely, however, Sylvestre’s date of death being December 11, 1972 is the solution to the mystery.

End of the Year Olympic Missing Links

As the year wraps up, we want to dedicate some blog space to the last few Olympic missing links that we came up with during the year: cases for whom we believed to have identified their date of death but, for whatever reason, we were unable to connect the information, such as obituary or public record, conclusively to the athlete. As always, we present them here not only in the hopes of solving some of these cases, but to continue our commitment to transparency in our research.

Kim Gyu-Hwan – Member of the South Korean football team at the 1948 London Olympics

Kim Gyu-Hwan, born July 16, 1921, also known as Kim Kyu-hwan, got his start in football at Kwangseong High School and went on to play for Pyongyang FC before Korea split into North and South. By the time of the 1948 London Olympics, however, the national Olympic committee was only representing the South and Kim was among those selected to take part in the football tournament at the Games. There, the country defeated Mexico in round one, before losing to upcoming gold medalists Sweden in the quarterfinals; Kim appeared in both matches. He later went on to have some prominence in the coaching and administration of the sport, serving as assistant manager to the national squad in the early 1960s and later working with the team known now as Busan IPark. Both the English and Korean Wikipedias list Kim as dying on October 5, 2007, but we have been unable to locate any source to verify this claim.

Josef Matěásko – Member of the Czechoslovakian military ski patrol team at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics

All we know for certain about Josef Matěásko was that he was a member of the Czechoslovakian military ski patrol team that finished eighth at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. Since this was a demonstration event that year, like Eisstockschießen, data for many of the competitors, especially those who did not take part in official Olympic events is lacking, and we have been unable to find much else on Matěásko, despite it being a relatively uncommon name. We did locate a record for a Czech Josef Matěásko born in 1912 who died in 1991, which would be about the right age for someone to have competed at the 1936 Games. Without further verification, however, we can only speculate.

Just a brief post for today as we wrap up the year. Things get busy in December, particularly as we prepare our lists of 1930-born Olympians, and we already have a handful of Olympic mysteries from that cohort. We hope that you will join us in the future as we share our research and try to solve some of these mysteries!

1956 Pakistan Olympic Field Hockey Team

Today Oldest Olympians is taking a look into the Pakistani field hockey team that won the silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Games, because this case contains elements of the different types of mysteries that we face while building our tables. While most of the players are either known to be deceased, or are too young to be among the Oldest Olympians, a few are right at home on the (digital) pages of this blog.

Our original objective with this post was simply to cover a silver medal mystery that we had missed previously. Habibur Rehman, born August 15, 1925, is the only medalist on the team over 90 about whom we are uncertain as to whether or not he is still alive. In addition to his silver from 1956, he was also with the squads that finished fourth at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and won a gold medal at the 1958 Asian Games. Despite these accomplishments, we have been unable to ascertain if Rehman, who would be 94, is alive or deceased.

(Aziz Malik)

We then noticed that one of the alternates on the team, Aziz Malik, was actually an Olympian in his own right. Although he did not receive a medal in 1956, because he did not actually play in any of the matches, he was a starter for Pakistan at the last two editions, in 1948 in London and 1952 in Helsinki, both times of which his country finished just off the podium in fourth. His date of birth is usually listed as April 16, 1916, although some sources have the year as 1918 instead. Regardless, we could not find any confirmation of his living status, so he is also an Olympic mystery, just not officially a medal one.

Then there was the case of another alternate, Zafar Hayat, who was a non-playing reserve not only in 1956, but also in 1960 in Rome, when Pakistan finally earned its first field hockey gold medal. It was not until 1964 in Tokyo, when Pakistan was relegated back to silver, that Hayat earned an Olympic medal officially. Two years earlier, however, he had taken gold with the national team at the 1962 Asian Games. Complicating Hayat’s case is his uncertain year of birth: while some sources list him as being born on March 31, 1927, others have him as being born in 1937. Despite the decade-long gap, neither date would be outside of the realm of possibility for his career for a field hockey player of this era, and thus we cannot be certain if he even qualifies as among the Oldest Olympians yet. Regardless, we have no information on whether or not he is still alive.

Finally, in terms of alternates, there were two other reserves on the 1956 squad about whom we know nothing: Muhammad Amin and Muhammad Nasib. We know of no other results from them in any international tournaments, and do not have even a year of birth for either; given how little attention such reserves receive, we cannot even be certain that their names are correct. Our list of “possibly living” oldest Olympians only takes into consideration Olympians without a date of birth when they competed prior to World War II, because otherwise we cannot be certain that they would have even reached the age of 90 yet. The reality is, however, that many postwar alternates would now be well over 90 if still alive, especially in a sport such a field hockey. Amin and Nasib, therefore, add to the mystery surrounding the 1956 Pakistani Olympic field hockey squad.

Thus this case study highlights the many difficulties and caveats that plague our research here at Oldest Olympians. Still, it is work that we enjoy and such mysteries keep us on our toes, so we always enjoy sharing some of what goes on behind the scenes in order to add additional transparency and, we hope, credibility to our ultimate results.

Amit Singh Bakshi

Today on Oldest Olympians we are looking at a gold medal mystery of a different kind. The case of Indian field hockey player Amit Singh Bakshi is one where the mystery does not come from whether or not he is alive, as we have evidence that he was still living in 2012 and have no reason to believe that he has since died. Instead, our confusion comes from not being certain exactly how old he is.

(Photograph of the 1956 Indian Olympic hockey team from bharatiyahockey.org)

A member of New Delhi’s Services Sport Control Board, Bakshi was originally a backup player on the Indian field hockey squad that was chosen for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. After teammate Gursewak Singh was declared medically unfit, however, Bakshi was moved up to a starting player. He only appeared in one of India’s five games on their way to earning their sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal, however, a 16-0 blowout of the United States in the group stage. By career, he was a commercial airline pilot.

The mystery comes from conflicting sources regarding his age. The 1956 Olympic report gives a year of 1936, while the 2012 article confirming that he was alive lists him as 87 years old, making him born in either 1924 or 1925 and suggesting that the Olympic report was not simply a typo for 1926. Due to the fact that he was not a prominent international player, no other sources provide more depth or additional clarification. He may, therefore, be one of the oldest Indian Olympians, third only to water polo player Gora Seal and triple field hockey champion Balbir Singh Sr. On the other hand, he may not even be in his mid-80s. With so much uncertainty about Indian Olympians of this era, it may be difficult to ascertain exactly when he was born, but we felt it worth noting him as an important caveat to our lists.