Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to look into a question asked recently by the OlyMADMen: what is the longest Olympic marriage? The discussion was spurred by the discovery of the death of British gymnast Pat Evans, born 1926, on January 19 of this year at the age of 93. Evans represented her country at the 1948 London Games, where she was ninth in the team event. Two months later, she married Jack Whitford, born January 3, 1924, who would go on to represent Great Britain at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
This means that Whitford and Evans were married for over 71 years. But was it a record? Olympedia has an extensive record of family relations across the Olympics (including through marriage), but exact wedding dates can be elusive. The short answer is, yes, Whitford and Evans appear to have had the longest marriage of any Olympic couple.
(Hans Pfann and Lydia Zeitlhofer pictured at Gymmedia.de)
The next question, then, is who is the living couple that is closest to breaking the record? At first we thought that it might be Hans Pfann and Lydia Zeitlhofer, born September 14, 1920 and February 18, 1931, respectively, with both having represented Germany in gymnastics in 1952 (with Pfann returning in 1956). They were married on August 18, 1953, but unfortunately Zeitlhofer died September 10, 2019 and the age of 88, ending their marriage after 66 years.
Eleven days after Pfann and Zeitlhofer married, however, another Olympic duo were wed: Les Laing, born February 19, 1925, and Carmen Phipps, born October 9, 1927. Both represented Jamaica in track athletics at the 1948 London Olympics, but Laing also attended the 1952 Games, winning gold in the 4×400 metres relay. As far as we know, both are still alive and remain married after 67 years, making them the living couple with the longest Olympic marriage.
(Elvira and Louis Barbey)
It would not be an Oldest Olympians blog post, however, without some sort of caveat. This time, it is one case for whom we do not have sufficient information to determine how long the couple was married. Two of Switzerland’s figure skaters at the 1928 St. Moritz Games, Louis and Elvira Barbey, were married at the time of their Olympic participation. Louis was born November 10, 1888 while Elvira was born August 7, 1892. Unfortunately, we know neither the date of their marriage nor either of their dates of death, and thus we cannot rule out that their marriage may have lasted longer than Evans and Whitford’s. As far as we have been able to discern, however, this is the only marriage that has the potential to better the record set by Evans and Whitford.