All posts by Paul Tchir

Roberto Ferrari

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to expand slightly on something we mentioned previously, but into which we did not go into much detail. It concerns Italian fencer Roberto Ferrari, born August 2, 1923, who would have turned 96 earlier this month. Until recently, we had listed Ferrari as the oldest living Italian Olympic medalist, but last month we learned that he was in fact deceased. We thought, for this blog entry, that explicating our research in this regard would help provide a little insight into the process of determining whether an Olympian is alive or deceased.

On the surface, Ferrari seems like an unlikely candidate for an Olympic mystery. He was a prolific fencer during the 1950s who won his first international title at the turn of the decade, in the team sabre event at the 1950 World Championships. His only other gold medal at the Worlds came in the team foil in 1954, but he also took team silvers in the sabre in 1951, 1953, and 1955, and the foil in 1953. At the Mediterranean Games, he won gold medals in the team sabre in 1951 and 1955, and bronze and silver in the individual tournament in those years respectively. He competed at three consecutive editions of the Olympics beginning in 1952, winning silver and bronze in the team sabre in 1952 and 1960 respectively.

Ferrari, therefore, was not a marginal figure in the sporting world, yet the internet, even in Italian, seems bereft of information on his later life. Nonetheless, when we saw his name on a newspaper’s online (now-removed) list of birthdays being celebrated in 2012, we had no reason to doubt that he had reached his 89th birthday.

After that, however, we were unable to locate any update until we were forwarded a list of Italian Olympic medalists, published in 2014, which noted that Ferrari was deceased, but did not include a date. In theory, this did not contradict the birthday list, since he could have died between 2012 and 2014, but we were nonetheless skeptical, since we assumed that an obituary for an Olympic medal-winning fencer who died in the 2010s should be easy to find. Since we had been proven wrong in this regard in the past (in the case of centenarian German alpine skier Gustav Lantschner, whose death we noticed only half a year later in a name-only listing among church funeral services), we decided to contact Italian Olympic expert Beppe Odello to see if he could confirm the information one way or another.

Odello responded quickly to let us know that Ferrari had indeed died, in Genova, but he did not have an exact date. The 2014 listing was, therefore, correct, and it remains possible that the 2012 account was mistaken, or that it had simply assumed (incorrectly) that he was still alive without researching the matter. That as notable a figure as Ferrari could die without drawing significant attention is itself an Olympic Mystery, as clearly the issue here goes beyond a language barrier, since neither the newspaper nor Odello could locate a notice of his death easily.

(Alessandro D’Ottavio, pictured at Boxrec)

In fact, the 2014 list noted that one of our bronze medal mysteries, boxer Alessandro D’Ottavio, born August 27, 1927, was also deceased. Despite having an Olympic medal-winning amateur career and a title-winning professional career, Odello was unable to even confirm the list’s report that D’Ottavio was deceased. We often try to post here about forgotten Olympians because, as the case of Ferrari shows, no athlete, no matter how successful, can be remembered unless people put the effort in to keep their memories and accomplishments alive.

Ben Verhagen

Today on Oldest Olympians, our mystery is not very deep, and is more of a curiosity. It concerns Gijsbertus “Ben” Verhagen, born September 29, 1926, who represented the Netherlands at three editions of the Olympic sailing tournament in the Flying Dutchman class. His first outing, at the 1960 Rome Games, was his best, as he finished in fifth with veteran sailors Gerard Lautenschutz and Jaap Helder. In 1964 in Tokyo he was sixth, and in 1968 in Mexico City he was joint-17th with the Austrian team. In the latter two instances, his partner was Nico de Jong.

(Verhagen from the Dutch National Archives)

Verhagen was more successful at the European Championships, where he won bronze medals in the Flying Dutchman class in 1961 and 1968. He attempted to qualify for the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the Tempest class, but did not succeed. Nonetheless, he continued to race in the Soling class through the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite his lengthy career, we have been unable to confirm whether or not he is still alive, and thus since 2016 he has been on our list of “possibly living” Olympians. At the end of last month, however, we noticed that an anonymous user had added the following note to his Wikipedia page:

Ben Verhagen 91 years old. Still alive and fit 18-1-2018

Unfortunately, by the time we discovered this addition, over a year and a half had passed, so it seems unlikely that the author has the same IP address, let alone will respond to our inquiry. We turned, therefore, to Dutch OlyMADMen member Jeroen Heijmans, but he was unable to confirm whether the notice above was true. We have no particular reason to doubt the message’s veracity but, as Wikipedia is so prone to vandalism, we cannot consider the statement above sufficient proof to list him our tables. We felt, therefore, the next best step would be to share this information with our readers in the hopes that someone may have the confirmation needed to close this question.

As a small addition to this post, however, we do have some good news. While searching through Dutch sources, we discovered that Jan Ceulemans, born January 11, 1926, who represented Belgium in basketball at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, was still alive in 2018 at the age of 92, and we were therefore able to add him to our tables:

(Announcement of Jan Pieter Ceulemans’ birthday)

Finally, thanks to a message left on this blog by Christian Brücher, we have learned that one of our Bronze Medal Mysteries, Swiss sailor Pierre Girard, is still alive. Girard, born August 2, 1926, represented his country in the 5.5 metres class at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he took home a bronze medal. Thanks to Christian Brücher, we are now able to add Girard to our tables as well!

Viscount de Lastic

Continuing with our theme of the 1900 Paris Olympics, today on Olympic Mysteries we are looking into another case muddled by uncertainty, that of French fencer Viscount de Lastic. One might assume that if anyone from the 1900 Games were to be remembered, it would be a member of the nobility. Unfortunately, at the time, the Olympics had yet to distinguish itself from other international sporting tournaments and, with the Paris Games further diluted in importance by being mixed into that year’s World Fair, many may not have even been aware that they were participating in the Olympics, let alone have found it prestigious enough to be worth special mention. If this were the case for the average sportsman, then certainly it would be more so for a member of the nobility whose life would have revolved around many uncommon exploits, and for whom participation in the first round of a fencing tournament may not have been of particular note.

What we know for certain is that a man holding the title of Viscount de Lastic took part in the individual épée competition at the Paris Games and was eliminated in round one of the event. He was neither the only member of the nobility taking part nor was he the highest-ranked. Gabriel, Count de la Falaise, for example, finished fourth in this event and won the sabre tournament.

(The Coat of Arms for the de Lastic family)

The de Lastic family has been around since at least the 11th century, leaving many potential branches to explore. We suspect, however, that Viscount de Lastic was actually Hubert Jehan de Lastic Saint Jal, but we are unable to confirm it. He was born January 15, 1874 and died June 1, 1965 at the age of 91, which would have at one time, appropriately enough, made him among the Oldest Olympians.

(Biography from Des hommes et des activités autour d’un demi-siècle, page 428)

According to one biography, this de Lastic was a cavalry officer and a sports patron, both of which would align well with an interest and competitive history in fencing. He was decommissioned in 1908, but called back to serve with the 10th Hussards during World War I. After that, he seems to have spent much of his time active in various sports administration roles in France.

There is nothing to suggest, therefore, that Hubert Jehan de Lastic Saint Jal was not the Olympic fencer but, unfortunately, there is nothing to confirm it either. Given his extensive sports patronage and decorated military career, there would seem to be little reason in any biography to mention his single-round participation in a fencing tournament nestled within the 1900 World Fair. Although by 1965 participation in the Olympics would certainly be worthy of note, if there is an obituary that mentioned this fact, we have not seen it. Thus, despite all of the supporting evidence, the case of Viscount de Lastic must remain among our Olympic mysteries.

Huger Pratt

If there is one edition of the Olympic Games more mysterious than 1904 St. Louis, from where we covered last week’s blog subject, it is the 1900 Paris Games. Today’s subject, Huger Pratt, has less of a connection to the Olympics than Julius Schaefer, but no less mystery surrounding him.

Pratt, who was born c. 1857 in California, took part in the golf tournament at the 1900 Olympics, but only participated in the handicap event, which is not considered an official Olympic competition, and finished joint-eighth. He was entered in the Olympic contest, but did not actually take part. His wife, Abbie Pratt, had more luck, coming in third place in the women’s event. Both Pratts were among the social elite and were frequent visitors to France, even though they were American.

(Abbie Pratt in 1921, from Getty Images)

Huger was not Abbie’s first husband. She had been married previously to Herbert Wright, with some sources listing him as having died in 1880, although most noting that the two were divorced at some time in the 1890s. Her marriage to Pratt, which occurred perhaps very shortly prior to the Games, is where the Olympic mystery begins.

For a long time, Pratt was believed to have died in 1905, as he is listed as alive in the New York Social Register in 1904, but deceased in 1906. Yet according to one researcher, Pratt, who had possibly been involved in financial speculation in the 1880s, was listed as deceased in 1907 in the 1908 edition of that same publication.

(Clipping from an 1883 edition of The Weekly Underwriter)

The confusion, it seems, comes from Pratt himself. In November 1907, a scandal hit American newspapers when it was revealed that Abbie was living in Cleveland with her mother, because she had “not seen her husband for some months and [did] not know where he [was]”, and was thus planning on bringing suit for divorce. The Pratts, who according to the article had been married in 1896, had been living in Paris until he disappeared, presumably voluntarily.

(Article from the November 19, 1907 edition of The Leavenworth Times)

After that, we were unable to uncover the resolution of that situation, or even be certain whether or not Huger eventually reappeared. It is well known, however, that Abbie married Prince Alexis Karageorgevich, a claimant to the Serbian throne, in 1913, and lived the rest of her days as Princess Daria Karageorgevich. But what happened to Huger Pratt? Given his history, it is not surprising that he disappeared from the record, but we did locate one mention of him dying in 1912:

(Mention of Huger Pratt’s death in the April 4, 1919 edition of The Marion Star)

This article implies that Abbie never went through with the divorce and remained married to him until he died in 1912, which would also suggest that he did reveal himself eventually. Given how uncertain information about Pratt’s death is, however, this article cannot be presumed to be accurate. As we could not find any other confirmation of a death year of 1912, it is entirely possible that the newspaper had fallen victim to misinformation, like other publications before and after it. Until someone can locate an actual obituary or death record, it seems likely that Huger Pratt will remain an Olympic mystery.

Julius Schaefer

Today on Oldest Olympians we were are going a little further back than usual to dig up our Olympic mystery. Our subject of the day is Julius Schaefer, about whom little is known. While this is the case for many participants from the 1904 St. Louis Games, we did uncover some additional clues that make this a mystery worth sharing.

All we know about Schaefer for certain is that he competed in two events at the 1904 Olympics. In the 25 mile race, he was among the six starters (out of ten total) who failed to complete the event. He had much more luck in the 5 mile competition, where he was one of only four people to finish a race that had begun with nine contestants. Unfortunately for Schaefer, he placed fourth and thus missed an Olympic medal. At the time, he was a member of the South Side Cycling Club of St. Louis.

Contemporary reports demonstrate that Schaefer continued racing through at least 1908, but give no indication of when he began his career or any other biographical hints, other than the fact that he was still considered youthful at that time. It is not until September 6-7, 1934 that we could locate another clue. On that date, obituaries appear for a Julius Schaefer, aged either 53 or 54, who committed suicide by gunshot on the 6th in St. Louis. By occupation, he owned a local bicycle shop.

(The obituary of a Julius Schaefer from the September 6, 1934 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Unfortunately, there are no other details that can help us connect this obituary to the Olympian, which is not surprising, as many events at the 1904 Games were considered to be of uncertain Olympic status and, in 1934, there would be no reason for an obituary to mention participation in that tournament. Aside from the bicycle store connection and his age, which would be appropriate for the Olympian, there is no strong evidence that this was the 1904 cyclist Julius Schaefer.

The mystery, however, takes one final odd twist. On July 17, 1902, a story was published about a man who attempted to commit suicide after an argument with his brother, Herman. Just as in 1934, it was noted that the love interest of the tobacco worker was “in a despondent mood” prior to his act of drinking poison. His name was Julius Schaefer.

(A note of the attempted suicide of Julius Schaefer in the July 17, 1902 edition of The St. Louis Republic)

We could not uncover a connection between the 1902 Schaefer and the 1934 Schaefer, let alone one to the Olympian, so we can only speculate if any are one and the same. We did locate Herman Schaefer’s obituary, which lists his family members and indicates that the 1902 Julius was still alive at that time. It omits, however, one important name – that of Julius’ wife – which is the only family member name present in the 1934 obituaries (Maria). Thus, we are left with our mystery: is the bike shop-owning Julius Schaefer who died in 1934 the Olympian? And, if so, did he struggle with depression for over three decades before it finally claimed his life? For now, this is an Olympic mystery on which we can only speculate.

(Herman Schaefer’s obituary from the March 20, 1931 edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat)

Daphne Robb-Hasenjäger

Today Oldest Olympians is presenting the story of another Olympic medalist about whom we could find little of their post-athletic life: South African sprinter Daphne Hasenjäger, born July 2, 1929, who would have recently turned 90 if still alive.

(Hasenjäger, pictured far left, in the Life Photo Collection)

Hasenjäger began her career in the aftermath of World War II as Daphne Robb. Her first major international appearance came at the 1948 London Olympics, where she was eliminated in the semifinals of the 100 metres and placed sixth in the 200 metres. In 1949 she ran the 100 yards in 10.7 seconds, then a world record, but it was not recognized due to assistance from the wind. Robb’s achievements became more notable in the 1950s, as she won a bronze medal in the 220 yards event at the 1950 British Empire Games and then, after marrying a fellow athlete and becoming Daphne Hasenjäger, earned a silver medal in the 100 metres at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

After this, we have been unable to find much trace of her, let alone information on whether or not she is still alive. We know that a street in Windhoek, Namibia was named after her no later than 1997, but as this honor is not exclusive to deceased individuals, this fact does not tell us much. In this case, we have no language barrier, nor any real reason that we should not be able to find at least some information on her after her athletic career. The sheer death of material, we feel, is an Olympic Mystery of its own, one that we hope our readers will find relatively easy to solve.

Alf Horn

As we have no updates to share on the subject of last week’s blog, ski jumper Bob Lymburne, and with Canada Day being celebrated tomorrow, we thought that this week we would look into another Canadian Olympian whose mystery is much simpler: fencer Alf Horn.

(Horn, left, pictured in the March 22, 1940 edition of the Montreal Gazette)

Horn was born in Norway on January 6, 1913, but moved to Canada at a young age and, after dabbling in track and field, focused his athletic talents in fencing. He was quite capable in this regard, and won several Quebec provincial championships across the disciplines. His biggest moment in the sport came when he was selected to represent Canada at the 1948 London Olympics, where he took part in every event except the individual sabre, but never advanced beyond the second round. His sporting career wound down after that, but he remained active in coaching and administration and, as late as December 1967, was mentioned among “well-known Montreal sportsmen”:

(Advertisement from the December 9, 1967 edition of the Montreal Gazette)

With this mention being the last evidence we have of him being alive, the mystery is simply this: what happened to Alf Horn after the 1960s? Of course, as we have covered, there are many Olympians, even well-known ones, that have simply disappeared from the record later in life, so this question in and of itself would not make him more mysterious than thousands of other Olympians. We were, however, able to locate one perplexing clue that makes his case worth discussing.

The above obituary appeared in the August 31, 1978 edition of the Montreal Gazette, but unfortunately does not provide any evidence that the individual listed was the Olympian. It mentions relatives, but no children, and we were unable to track his named brother and sister-in-law to uncover more clues. Finally, one piece of information that it does give, that the deceased individual was Jewish, does not align well with the Olympian’s long-time affiliation with the YMCA, as the Montreal YMHA was also well-known for its sports programs and sent several basketball players to the 1948 Games.

We were able to locate the cemetery in which he was buried, the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, but, unfortunately, his Find-A-Grave page offers no additional details beyond the obituary and does not include a picture of the grave. Still, there is nothing that disqualifies him from being the Olympian (the fencing program at the YMCA, for example, might have been better than the one at the YMHA, or the YMHA might have been too far away for him to travel routinely during his youth) and we could locate no other suitable obituaries. Thus, for now, it seems, Horn’s later life will remain an Olympic mystery.

Bob Lymburne, Part II

Today on Olympic Mysteries, we are revisiting an Olympian that we covered before, whose circumstances are truly deserving of the word “mystery”: Robert Samuel “Bob” Lymburne. We were, unfortunately, unable as of yet to his resolve his case, but we did uncover further information that we feel is worth sharing.

As we covered previously, Lymburne represented Canada in the ski jumping tournament at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. There, he placed 19th out of 34 starters in the normal hill. In the sporting world, however, he was more notable for his achievements outside of the Games. On March 13, 1932, he set a world record of 82 metres (269 feet) with a jump in Revelstoke, British Columbia. He lost his record in less than a year, but regained it in March 1933 with a jump of 87.5 metres (287 feet). Unfortunately, he suffered a severe head injury while skiing in 1935 and never competed again. According to the book Powder Pioneers:

“He is reported to have wandered off into the woods many years later and his body was never found.”

We do not know the origins of this story, as the earliest version we could locate was in Powder Pioneers, written in 2005. Thus, we do not even know when his disappearance is alleged to have occurred or in which woods he vanished.

In regards to the first issue, we now have at least a little more clarification. Some sources list him as having disappeared in the 1930s, but we were able to locate numerous references to him being alive well after that. The latest mention we could find comes from The Province, a newspaper from Vancouver, which published a picture of him on March 11, 1957, leaving no ambiguity to the fact that he was still alive at the time:

At the time, he was living in Trail, British Columbia, but online records for the province do not contain any documents relating to his death. What we did find, however, was his marriage registration from November 19, 1939, when he married Alice Luella Threatful:

Interestingly enough, his surname is listed on this document as “Lynburne”, a spelling that occurred occasionally in newspaper accounts about his career, despite “Lymburne” being far more common. We were also hopeful that the discovery of a wife might have led to new family details. Unfortunately, Alice died less than a year after their marriage, with a record that also lists her surname as “Lynburne”:

(Alice Luella Lynburne’s death record at the archives of the Royal BC Museum)

Other family information led to even more questions, as the death certificates of both of his parents are listed under “Lymbourne”. Adding to the confusion, two of his sisters, Mary and Sarah, have marriage registrations in the same records with the surname “Lymburne”. In fact, on the death certificate for Harry Prestwich (mistakenly listed as “Prestwick” on his own marriage certificate!), Mary’s husband, his wife’s maiden name is spelled “Linburn”. It was the name “Lymbourne”, however, that provided more definitive clues, as features on the Lymbourne Family were featured in The Golden Star on July 12 and 19, 1978. In the article, it mentions that the two boys, Frederick and Bob, and are deceased:

(Clipping from the July 19 article)

Frederick died December 20, 1970, with his death record listing Lymbourne, but there is no trace of Bob’s death in the archives. Thus, this is where the trail in public records seems to go cold. We now know that Bob died between 1957 and 1978, but we could not locate a record of this in any public documents. If he disappeared in the woods, as is claimed, then it is possible that he was never declared dead officially, or that such a declaration took place in a different province or during a time where the British Columbia records remain sealed. That said, the earliest iteration of the “walked off” story we have seen is still from the 2005 Powder Pioneers mention, so we cannot even verify that that story is true. Our next step, therefore, will be to attempt to contact the author of that book, as well as some of the descendants of the Lymbourne siblings, in the hopes that we can move closer to solving this mystery. In the meantime, however, we thought that you our readers might enjoy an update to the progress being made in this case.

More Bronze Medal Mysteries

Today we wanted to continue to keep our blog simple by maintaining our focus on individual athletes and concentrating today on an Olympian who would have recently turned 90 were he alive, but is otherwise a bronze medal mystery. During the course of our work, however, we noted that there was another bronze medal mystery that we missed when we undertook our original series on this topic, and thus today will be a double feature as we rectify our previous oversight.

(Prokopov pictured at

Valentin Prokopov – Bronze medalist with the Soviet water polo team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics

Valnetin Prokopov, born June 10, 1929, is probably best known as the player who struck Ervin Zádor in the famous “blood in the water” water polo match at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. With the Soviets having just invaded Hungary to quell an uprising, tensions were high during the game, which quickly turned physical. The match was called in favor of the Hungarians when, with his opponents already ahead 4-0, Prokopov attacked Zádor and opened a cut beneath his eye, causing him to bleed profusely. The Soviets eventually settled for bronze in the tournament, while the Hungarians went on to win gold.

With the Russian-language barrier, there was little else that we could find on Prokopov, although we know that he had taken part in the 1952 Helsinki Games as a member of the Soviet water polo team (which finished seventh) and was scheduled to compete in the 1,500 metres freestyle, although he did not start. He also won three national championships in water polo, in 1956, 1959, and 1964. We suspect that he is still alive, and that the main obstacle is the language but, unfortunately, we could not find anything to confirm our suspicions.

(Baumann on the podium, in the center of the photograph)

Hermann Baumann – Bronze medalist for Switzerland in lightweight, freestyle wrestling at the 1948 London Olympics

We know even less about Swiss wrestler Hermann Baumann, born January 23, 1921, which is probably why we accidentally overlooked him before. Baumann represented his country in the lightweight, freestyle event at the 1948 London Olympics, and earned the bronze medal by defeating Italian [Garibaldo Nizzola]() in a tie-breaking match. Unfortunately, there is much less information out there on Swiss Olympians than one might expect, and thus this is all we know about him. Unless and until someone can provide additional information, Baumann will remain a bronze medal mystery to us.

Morgan Plumb

Today Oldest Olympians is focusing another post on a single athlete. This time we are looking into Canadian wrestler Morgan Plumb, for whom we feel we are a hair’s breadth close to unlocking his entire life story, yet we cannot find the smoking gun.

(Plumb pictured in a January 16, 1950 feature in Vancouver’s “The Province”)

We know a few things for certain about the Olympian, much of which comes from a feature of Royal Canadian Air Force wrestlers published on January 16, 1950 in “The Province” from Vancouver, British Columbia. He was born in 1913, likely as George Morgan Plumb, and took up wrestling at the Toronto West End YMCA in the early 1930s. He was selected to represent Canada in wrestling at the 1938 British Empire Games, having travelled to the trials at his own expense, but was later dropped from the team due to a lack of funds. He joined the RCAF at the outbreak of World War II and continued competing in military tournaments.

(Plumb, third from the left, during his wartime service, from Canadian Colour)

At the end of the conflict, he was chosen as Canada’s freestyle lightweight wrestling representative to the 1948 London Olympics, where he was eliminated from contention in the third round. He then represented Canada at the 1950 British Empire Games, where he won a silver medal in the same event. Prior to 1950, he had earned five Ontario provincial titles and three Canadian national ones. The January article listed his hometown as Aylmer, Ontario and noted that he had been married for six months, although it neglected to mention the name of his spouse.

(The grave of “Morgan Plumb”, who lived from 1913-1971, from Find A Grave) lists a George Morgan Plumb born April 12, 1913 in York, Ontario, which would align with what we know about the Olympic Morgan Plumb. From the other end of his lifespan, Find A Grave has a picture of a family grave in Prospect Cemetery, Toronto, which includes a “Morgan Plumb” who was born in 1913 and died in 1971.

(Morgan Plumb’s obituary from the Globe and Mail, August 3, 1971)

We were then thankful that frequent contributor Connor Mah forwarded us a copy of the obituary for the Morgan Plumb on the gravestone. It noted that Plumb died on August 1 in Oakville and listed the names of his children, wife, and siblings. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the obituary that could tie him conclusively to the Olympian, or even the George Morgan Plumb who had been born in York. Unable to find contact information for any of his family members or descendants, it was here that the trail finally went cold. We find it very likely that all three Morgan Plumbs are the same individual, particularly as his name is not overly common, but until we can locate some evidence that confirms this fact, this Canadian wrestler will remain an Olympic mystery.