Older Than John Lysak?

Recently we noted the death of American kayaker John Lysak, born August 16, 1914, who was, to the best of our knowledge, the oldest living Olympian when he died on January 8, 2020. As we have mentioned in the past, however, there are approximately 2000 Olympians, non-starters, and demonstration event competitors born between 1910 and 1930 for whom we have no confirmation on whether they are alive or deceased. In addition, there are 427 individuals who participated in the Games in 1928, 1932, and 1936 for whom we have no information on their date, or even year, of birth. Today we want to focus on a small subset of those 2000, the 62 who would be older than John Lysak if they were still alive. Only one, Zahir Shah Al-Zadah, who represented Afghanistan in field hockey at the 1936 Berlin Games, was born in 1910. Five more were non-starters, so to shorten the list just a little, we are going to look at the remaining 56 by year of birth.

It should be noted that discussing these individuals in no way represents any belief on the part of Oldest Olympians that these athletes are still alive; we simply cannot confirm that they are deceased. In fact, we find it highly unlikely that any Olympian who is between the age of 106 and 109 would have somehow escaped our attention completely. It remains, however, an important caveat and is always a possibility: language barriers, poor media coverage of older athletes, and desire for privacy from a generation when the Games were not as big as they are now all contribute to the chance that someone may have eluded our radar. In the past, several Olympic centenarians have reached that milestone with little public fanfare (including John Lyask), sometimes not being revealed until their death. We feel, therefore, that it is important to share this list to make our research methods a little more public and subject to scrutiny, perhaps solving a case or two along the way.

Dora Schönemann competed in two swimming events for Germany at the 1928 Summer Olympics.

1911

Name Nation Sport Birthday

Imam Hassan

Egypt Wrestling August 12 1911

Makoto Kikuchi

Japan Field hockey 1911

Ibrahim Okasha

Egypt Athletics 1911

Irmintraut Schneider

Germany Swimming 1911

Dora Schönemann

Germany Swimming 1911

Fumio Takashina

Japan Diving 1911

Kenichi Furuya represented Japan in ice hockey at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games.

1912

Name Nation Sport Birthday
Kenichi Furuya Japan Ice hockey November 8 1912
Luis Jacob Peru Basketball August 13 1912
Osamu Kitamura Japan Rowing June 29 1912
Tadashi Murakami Japan Athletics October 7 1912
Hilda von Puttkammer Brazil Fencing August 13 1912
Tadashi Shimijima Japan Rowing October 8 1912
Noboru Tanaka Japan Field hockey 1912
Taro Teshima Japan Rowing July 14 1912

Tsugio Hasegawa represented Japan in figure skating at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games.

1913

Name Nation Sport Birthday
Osamu Abe Japan Rowing August 11 1913
Sayed Ali Atta Afghanistan Field hockey August 25 1913
Juan de Giacomi Argentina Sport shooting 1913
Tsugio Hasegawa Japan Figure skating June 18 1913
Mohamed Hassanein Egypt Swimming 1913
Albino de Jesus Portugal Sport shooting August 13 1913
Ludovico Kempter Argentina Sailing November 11 1913
Hiroyoshi Kubota Japan Athletics April 29 1913
Daiji Kurauchi Japan Field hockey 1913
Pedro Landero Philippines Weightlifting October 19 1913
Jaime Mendes Portugal Athletics August 20 1913
Isamu Mita Japan Rowing March 25 1913
Amin Mohamed Egypt Boxing November 15 1913
Severino Moreira Brazil Sport shooting September 29 1913
Zafar Ahmed Muhammad Pakistan Sport shooting July 10 1913
Mie Muraoka Japan Athletics March 23 1913
Takao Nakae Japan Basketball April 30 1913
Chiyoto Nakano Japan Boxing February 7 1913
Wanda Nowak Austria Athletics January 16 1913
Dumitru Peteu Romania Bobsledding October 19 1913
Abdul Rahim Afghanistan Athletics February 11 1913
Hertha Rosmini Austria Alpine skiing November 9 1913
Shusui Sekigawa Japan Rowing May 13 1913
Chikara Shirasaka Japan Rowing August 18 1913

Toyoji Aihara represented Japan in two track events at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

1914

Name Nation Sport Birthday
Toyoyi Aihara Japan Athletics January 7 1914
Ion Baboe Romania Athletics April 12 1914
José Cazorla Venezuela Sport shooting February 26 1914
Hugo García Uruguay Water polo March 20 1914
Mitsue Ishizu Japan Athletics April 16 1914
Josef Jelen Czechoslovakia Boxing August 10 1914
Thea Kellner Romania Fencing March 6 1914
Grete Lainer Austria Figure skating June 20 1914
Masayasu Maeda Japan Basketball March 10 1914
Gheorghe Man Romania Fencing March 20 1914
Rosalvo Ramos Brazil Athletics June 6 1914
Julio César Sagasta Argentina Equestrian July 13 1914
Antônio Luiz dos Santos Brazil Swimming July 16 1914
Kosei Tano Japan Water polo January 22 1914
Paulo Tatto Brazil Swimming April 12 1914
Anwar Tawfik Egypt Fencing July 31 1914
Annie Villiger Switzerland Diving and swimming April 4 1914
Zenjiro Watanabe Japan Figure skating February 11 1914

For our next entry, we will be looking into those Olympians who may still be alive and were born between John Lysak and the current oldest living Olympian, Félix Sienra. We hope that you will join us!

John Lysak

As we posted a few days ago, we here at Oldest Olympians learned that American canoeist John Lysak, born August 16, 1914, who was believed to be the oldest living Olympian, died January 8, 2020 in Fremont, California, at the age of 105 years, 145 days. This makes him the fourth longest lived Olympian of all time. One might expect that we would have heard of this news much sooner but, as frequent readers will be aware, information on the oldest Olympians can be very difficult to come by. In fact, were it not for some detective work, we would remain unaware that Lysak died at the beginning of the year.

(John Lysak, pictured in a July 27, 2008 edition of The Mercury News)

This work began with a request from German researcher Gunnar Meinhardt, who wanted to produce a story about the oldest living Olympian for the German newspapers Welt am Sonntag and Welt. No story about Lysak had been written since July 27, 2008, when he was covered in The Mercury News at the age of 93, although we had presumed that he was still alive based on public records. Meinhardt contacted top Olympic historian and founder of the OlyMADMen Bill Mallon on September 7 and Mallon forwarded the request to us. We, in turn, passed on the contact information that we had and looked forward to what would hopefully be a detailed interview.

It was not to be. Meinhardt exhausted all of our contact options for Lysak within two days and turned to us for more help. We then tried to contact Keith Lysak, John’s son who lived with him, but were similarly unsuccessful. Thus, we had to get creative. Oldest Olympians tracked down the closest living relative that we could find, Lysak’s great-niece Barbara Zinter, who worked for the Village of Bergen, New York.

Mallon contacted Zinter who, unfortunately, could not provide a definitive update on Lysak. She had, however, heard that he may have died within the last year, and informed us that one of his caretaker sons, Michael, was also deceased. Determined to solve the mystery, Mallon contacted Mark Purdy, the writer of the story in The Mercury News, but the key clue came in the former of the obituary of a man named Andrew Syka, who died March 10, 2020 at the age of 99. A comment in the obituary by Lucille Greenlee noted that Syka was lifelong friends with John Lysak… who had died in January. Greenlee was Lysak’s sister-in-law.

Based on this information, Mallon assembled a list of nearly a dozen individuals connected to either Syka or Greenlee who might be able to provide further information. In the end, however, a series of dead ends left us frustrated, but it was ultimately a small genealogy website that provided the final clue:

https://www.mylife.com/john-lysak/e495001680996

(Félix Sienra, pictured at the Facebook page of Panathlon Distrito Uruguay)

This page provided us with a full date of death, January 8, 2020, confirming that Lysak had died at the age of 105 years, 145 days. This meant that Finnish track athlete Aarne Kainlauri, born May 25, 1915, had been the oldest living Olympian for just over two months, until his own death in March 11, 2020. We believe that, since then, Uruguayan sailor Félix Sienra, born January 21, 1916, has been the oldest living Olympian.

To close out this blog post, we have some additional sad news: we were informed that Jasper Blackall, born July 20, 1920, who was believed to be the oldest living British Olympian, actually died at some point between 2018 and 2020, prior to turning 100. This means that the current oldest British Olympian is another medal-winning sailor, David Bowker, born March 15, 1922, who took silver in the 5.5 metres class at the 1956 Melbourne Games.

Roberto Sieburger

On Oldest Olympians, we often cover some of the more obscure Olympians, both living and possibly living. As our Olympic medal mysteries series has shown, however, even more prominent competitors can have their later lives obscured by time. Often, however, these medalists are participants in team sports, so it can be understandable how they may have lived the rest of their lives outside of the public eye.

When an athlete is notable enough to have competed at five editions of the Olympic Games, however, it is somewhat more surprising if we cannot locate many additional details of their lives. We currently have two individuals on our lists who have competed at that many tournaments, yet we cannot even determine if they are alive or deceased for certain. We covered one of them, fencer Jacques Lefèvre, in our series about bronze medal mysteries, and came to the conclusion that he was probably still living, but with the proof concealed by his common name. This conclusion was strengthened by his absence in the recently released French Death Index. Today, we wanted to look into the other, Roberto Sieburger, who is much more likely to be deceased, yet we still cannot find any information on his death.

Sieburger, born February 26, 1917, was a notable sailor in his own right. At the Olympics, he represented Argentina in three different classes: Dragon (1948 and 1952), 5.5 metres (1960), and Star (1964 and 1968), finishing just off the podium twice in 1952 and 1960. He also took part in at least one more international tournament, the 1963 Star World Championships, although he finished far down the list in 52nd.

(Roberto’s father Julio)

Beyond this, however, Sieburger was also a member of a notable sailing family, six of whom (including Roberto) competed at the Games and three of whom won silver medals: his father Julio and uncle Enrique Sr. in the 6 metres class in 1948 and his brother-in-law Jorge Alberto del Río in the Dragon class in 1960. Two other cousins, Carlos and Enrique Jr., placed fourth in the 5.5 metres event in 1960.

Despite this prominence, the above is about the limit of what we know about Roberto. He earned a PhD in chemistry and worked in that industry, garnering additional notability in this field. This also helps us learn that he was still alive in 1975. Beyond this, however, we have surprisingly hit a wall, despite his uncommon name, and thus we must end this entry without even a hint of what might have become of him. If anyone out there knows any additional details, we would be very grateful to learn them.

Al-Ahram Missing Links

Today on Oldest Olympians we are continuing to look into our findings from Al-Ahram and we wanted to post about the publication’s missing links. Obituaries in Egypt can be very unclear for those not familiar with the culture; they usually focus more on the individual’s families and very rarely on their occupations. Their ages are never mentioned. Thus, even when coming across a very uncommon name, it can be difficult to tell if that obituary is for the Olympian unless it was sponsored by their former club or the federation overseeing their sport. Thus today we are presenting a few cases that we believe to be Olympians, but do not have sufficient evidence to prove.

(Obituary for a Medhat Bahgat)

Medhat Bahgat – Member of Egypt’s basketball squad at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Medhat Bahgat, born October 14, 1926, was a member of the powerful postwar Egyptian army basketball squad and was selected to represent his country at the 1952 Helsinki Games. There, Egypt survived the group stage and proceeded to round one, where it was eliminated. Like many of the country’s basketball players, we know little else about him at the moment, but an obituary for a military officer by the name of Mohamed Medhat Bahgat appeared in the December 29, 1995 edition of Al-Ahram on page 19. Although this seems like to be the Olympian, the obituary contains no definitive proof.

 (Mohamed Ebeid, right, with teammate George Fahoum, pictured on page 16 of the February 1, 1937 edition of Al-Ahram)

Mohamed Ebeid – Member of Egypt’s track delegation to the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Mohamed Ebeid, born April 11, 1911, represented Egypt in the 400 metres event at the 1936 Berlin Games, where he was eliminated in round one. A member of the Al-Ahly Club, he continued competing at the national level until World War II, which effectively ended his career. We actually have two candidates for his obituary. On April 14, 1948, a forty-day remembrance was posted for a police officer named Mohamed Anwar Ebeid, indicating that he had died earlier in the year. Searching the archives reveals that Mohamed Anwar Ebeid was actually an athlete during the same era as the Olympian, but he competed for the police school and had no known ties to Al-Ahly. A different Mohamed Anwar Ebeid died January 26, 1988 and had his funeral at the Zamalek Club, a rival to Al-Ahly in that both clubs often poached each other’s athletes. This means that it is possible that Ebeid later joined Zamalek, although it is equally possible that this individual was a member of Zamalek for its social functions and had nothing to do with athletics. Either way, we have no evidence connecting either person for certain to the Olympian.

(Obituary for a Hassan El-Sayed Attia)

Hassan El-Sayed Attia – Member of Egypt’s shooting delegation to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

We wanted to end our entry with an individual who is not quite at the potential for being one of the Oldest Olympians, but is close enough to warrant a further look while we are on the topic. Hassan El-Sayed Attia, born November 10, 1931, represented Egypt in the free pistol, 50 metres event at the 1964 Tokyo Games, where he was 47th out of 52 entrants. As usual, information about sport shooters is particularly scarce, but we did come across an obituary for a Hassan El-Sayed Attia in the December 19, 1997 edition of Al-Ahram. Unfortunately, aside from being the only obituary for a man of this name that we could find, there was nothing to connect him to the Olympian.

That’s it for today! We are just about caught up on our blogging, but we should have one more for you in the coming days. We hope that you will join us!

Jaroslav Volak

In our last blog entry, we mentioned that our discovery that Egyptian Olympic wrestling medalist Ibrahim Orabi died July 2, 1957, in his mid-40s. Prior to our uncovering of this information, Orabi was the oldest living Olympic medalist who we could not classify definitively as either alive or deceased, although we assumed, correctly as it turned out, that he had died. This got us thinking: who has become the oldest Olympic medalist whose fate remains unknown to us?

The answer to that question is Jaroslav Volak, born July 7, 1915. We have covered him as part of our earlier series on Olympic silver medal mysteries, and unfortunately we know no more now than we did when last wrote about him. Competing out of the Wiener Athletiksport Club, Vienna-born Jaroslav Volak was a member of the Austrian national handball team that won silver at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, behind the German squad. According to the book “1936, Die Olympischen Spiele und Der Nationalsozialismus: Eine Dokumentation” by Reinhard Rürup, five members of that squad, and nine members of the national team overall, died fighting the Soviet Union during World War II. Volak, however, is not listed as being among them.

(Willy Hufschmid, pictured in Turnen und Handball: 100 Jahre RTV Basel 1879)

Since we could find no later confirmation of his death, Volak remains the oldest Olympic medalist whose living status remains unclear. We assume, of course, that he is deceased, given that he would be 105 if still alive, but we cannot say for certain. We are missing information on only one other medalist from that competition: Willy Hufschmid, born October 9, 1918, who was a member of the bronze medal-winning Swiss team. We know that Hufschmid continued to play through 1943, but we lose track of his activities after World War II. At 101, it is not impossible that he is still alive, although it seems unlikely.

(Saleh Mohamed Soliman)

After Volak, the next individual on our list of medalists missing information is Salah Mohamed Soliman, born June 24, 1916, who won a silver medal for Egypt in featherweight weightlifting at the 1936 Berlin Games. We are continuing to conduct research on him in Al-Ahram, but he seems to have stopped competing shortly after his victory, despite being only 20, and we have found no record as of yet of him being alive past 1938, although we are continuing to search.

Updates on Egyptian Olympians

With all the recent activity among the oldest Olympians, we have once again fallen behind in our blogging. Thus we wanted to start catching up with our entries by revealing the latest research we have been doing. Over the past week and a half, we have obtained temporary access to the archives of Egypt’s most important newspaper, Al-Ahram (The Pyramids). This access allows for text searching that, while not perfect, has allowed us to uncover plenty of information on Egyptian Olympians that we hope to share in the coming weeks.

(Jwani Riad Noseir’s obituary)

During the course of our research, we were able to uncover at least two more Egyptian nonagenarians, albeit neither of whom lived as long as the current oldest Egyptian Olympian, Mohamed Selim Zaki. The first was Jwani Riad Nossier, born February 6, 1913, who represented his country in the basketball tournament at the 1936 Berlin Games, where Egypt was eliminated by Uruguay in round two. He later served as an international referee and in the administration of the sport, most notably as the General Secretary for the Cairo Regional Basketball Association. He died in Cairo on February 16, 2005, making him 92 years and 10 days old at the time of his death.

(Mohamed Mohamed Habib)

Our other entry brings in a small element of mystery that we like to introduce into these blog posts. Mohamed Mohamed Habib was also a basketball player, but his tenure was with the Egyptian Army, where he was also an officer. Habib attended the Olympics in 1948, where Egypt placed 19th overall in the tournament. Already in his 30s by then, he turned to coaching after the Games and worked with the Egyptian military for his entire career. According to an obituary placed by the Egyptian Basketball Federation, he died in December 2007.

(Obituaries for Habib and Moawad)

According to passenger shipping lists during his time as coach, Habib was born in either 1913 or 1914, which would make him a nonagenarian when he died and potentially among the longest-living Egyptian Olympians. Research by historian and former Olympian George Masin suggests that he may have been born on November 11, 1914 in Alexandria.

Right beneath Habib’s obituary is another one for a different 1948 player: Hassan Moawad.  Moawad was on the squad that won a bronze medal at the 1947 European Championships (EuroBasket) and played domestically for Al-Ahly. Unfortunately, we do not know much more about him than that, although he did seem to have a career in higher education, and we remain unaware of how old he might have been when he died.

(Obituaries for Sayed Nosseir and Ibrahim Orabi)

Finally, as an update to one of our earliest blog posts, we were able to locate the obituary for Sayed Nosseir, Egypt’s first Olympic champion, who won gold in light-heavyweight weightlifting at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. He has been noted with multiple different days and years of death, but his obituary on the front page of the November 29, 1974 edition of Al-Ahram proves that he died on November 28, 1974. We also learned that another Egyptian medalist, Ibrahim Orabi, who won bronze in light-heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling in 1948, died July 2, 1957 in Alexandria.

Lightfoot and the Mohawk Lacrosse Team

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to update our readers on the Mohawk team that placed third in the lacrosse tournament at the 1904 St. Louis Games. This squad was not even widely known to have competed at the Olympics until 1981, when Bill Mallon rediscovered their roster and published it. At the time, both their Native American names and their English names were known, but for almost four decades, it was not known which of the former went with which of the latter. Since only their English names were recorded in archival documents (such as censuses and family trees), no personal information about any of these competitors was known.

Recently, however, members of the OlyMADMen were able to piece together the connections, and the English names of all the competitors are now listed on Olympedia (see here for the full roster). Thus the process of uncovering their biographical details could begin. We have managed to find at least some information on 7 of the 12 squad members, leaving five that have eluded us thus far: Almighty Voice (Jacob Jamieson), Flat Iron (Joe Clark), Night Hawk (Eli Martin), Snake Eater (Frank Seneca), and Lightfoot (Berman Snow).

(Identification of B. L. Snow in Oklahoma)

Since this would not be a proper blog post without an Olympic mystery, we wanted to take a quick look at the last individual, Lightfoot. Researcher Taavi Kalju has suggested that Lightfoot might actually be Beman Lawrence Snow, who was born on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Erie, New York on January 18, 1877. This individual moved to Oklahoma in the mid-1900s to work in the oil and gas industry, and was identified as Iroquois. It is interesting to note, therefore, that he might have never lived in Canada, which would suggest that the Mohawk team in 1904 was actually mixed Canadian/American.

(Beeman Snow’s obituary in the Seminole Producer, December 29, 1933, pg. 1)

Regardless, we were able to track Snow through historical records and uncover his obituary. It seems that Snow asphyxiated near Seminole, Oklahoma from a gas leak on December 26, 1933, aged 59 according to the obituary, but probably more likely only 56 based on birth records. Beeman married Rachel D. Green on June 12, 1907 and had three children: Laurence Wallace (May 13, 1909 – June 18, 1971), Howard William (born June 1, 1911), and Wayne Snow (born May 4, 1914). Rachel had an earlier son, O. L. Green, and seems to have divorced Snow and remarried at some point, as she is listed as Rachel Henry in later documents.

(Laurence W. Snow’s obituary in The Daily Oklahoman, June 21, 1971, pg. 14)

Howard married Katie Marie McKinney on May 10, 1944, but beyond this we were not able to find any information about his later life. Similarly, for Wayne, we found no information about his descendants. Laurence married twice: once to Helen McCollum (born 1911) and later to Melba G.. Laurence’s 1971 obituary lists O. L. Green and Wayne Snow as still alive, the latter living in Victorville, California, as well as two other siblings, Jack and Mrs. Dave Cornell, who are possibly children from his mother’s later marriage. It also lists four biological children: Laurence Ray Snow (born June 28, 1939), Myrna Montgomery (March 2, 1932 – June 24, 2003), Edna Huntington (born 1931, deceased), and Patricia Haxell, as well as two stepsons: Newell and Harvey Wright.

And this is where our trail ends. We believe that Laurence Ray Snow is still alive in living in San Diego, but we have no means of contacting him to confirm whether or not his grandfather was the 1904 Olympian. We share this information, therefore, not only in the hopes of demonstrating the process that we undertake to identify Olympians, but also in the hopes that perhaps someone with more information will be able to help us solve this mystery.

Jang U-Shik

In order to finally catch up on our backlog of blog entries, today we want to take a quick look at the case of Korean speed skater Jang U-Shik, born January 18, 1914, perhaps better known internationally as Yushoku Cho. Japan had annexed Korea in 1910 and soon forced Koreans to change their names to align with the Japanese system. Jang took the name Yushoku Cho and this is how he was known when he represented Japan abroad.

Jang drew attention for his speed skating performances as a student at Tokyo’s Meiji University and was selected to represent Japan at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. There, he was joint-27th in the 5000 metres and 26th in the 10,000 metres. The onset of World War II a few years later ended his competitive career.

Back in September 2018, we listed Jang as among the Olympians who could, in theory, be still alive and older than current oldest living Olympian John Lysak. We based this assertion on the fact that Japanese sources had listed him as alive and living in Tokyo during the 1980s, albeit refusing interviews. Recently, however, we have come across mention of conflicting Korean sources, which claimed that he died in Korea in 1971, based on a 1976 interview with his friend and fellow Olympian Son Gi-Jeong, the 1936 marathon champion.

It is probably safe to surmise at this point that he is deceased, but this is a case where even well-researched sources seem to disagree. Did he die in Korea in 1971 as claimed, or did he survive into the 1980s, and perhaps beyond, in Japan? Given the nationalist sentiments behind the issue, this may remain an Olympic mystery for years to come.

Leonie Taylor

As we continue to catch up on our blog posts, we wanted to draw quick attention to a new discovery regarding the case of Leonie Taylor, an American archer who competed at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, and the way it changes our understanding of the history of the Oldest Olympians.

Taylor, born in March 1870, represented the United States in three events at the 1904 Olympic archery tournament. A member of her hometown Cincinnati Archers, she was sixth and last in both the Double Columbia and Double National Rounds, but came in first in the team round – an event of questionable (although official) Olympic status, since one squad entered. Leonie’s sister Mabel also competed in the individual competitions, although not the team one.

For a long time, Olympedia had a date of death for Leonie as July 3, 1966, which would have made her the oldest living Olympic champion for nearly four years, as well as the oldest living Olympian for one and half. While searching for her complete date of birth, however, we at Oldest Olympians discovered that she had actually died March 9, 1936, nearly 30 years earlier than believed previously.

(Carl Hellström)

In terms of the list of historical oldest living Olympians, this did not change our tables much, as it simply meant that Charlotte Cooper, who was believed to be Taylor’s successor in the title, simply held it for longer than believed previously. At first, we thought there would just be a minor change in the champions list as well, since Cooper was a two-time tennis gold medalist. Our list had originally gone back only one champion further, to sailing gold medalist Carl Hellström of Sweden, born December 10, 1864.

(William Pimm)

When we looked at Olympedia’s data, however, we realized that we had an interesting situation. New information had been found on two-time sport shooting champion William Pimm that informed us that he had died on July 18, 1952. This confirmed his status as Hellström’s predecessor on the list but, since Pimm had been born on December 10, 1864, this meant that they had held the record jointly for a year and a half!

(Georgios Orfanidis)

Thus, to get the point of this long story, we were able to expand the table back to another two-time sport shooting Olympic champion, Georgios Orfanidis of Greek, who was born in 1859 and died in 1942. Even without exact dates for his birth and death, he was the oldest living Olympic champion regardless of when he died in 1942 and, because Canadian golf champion George Lyon was older and died May 11, 1938, we know that Orfanidis cannot have been the oldest living Olympic champion prior to this date. Triple Olympic archery champion Lida Howell of the United States, however, died December 20, 1938, having been born August 29, 1859. Thus if Orfanidis’ date of birth was August 30 or later, Howell would have been the oldest living Olympic champion between Lyon and Orfanidis.

That was a lot to take in, so we will leave it at that and invite you to check out our list of the historical oldest living Olympic champion here: http://acsweb.ucsd.edu/~ptchir/champions.html. Our list of historical oldest living Olympian overall can be found here: http://acsweb.ucsd.edu/~ptchir/historical.html.

The Earliest-Born Olympian

We are still catching up on our blog posts here at Oldest Olympians, so today we wanted to post a quick answer to a simple question: who is the earliest-born Olympian? Since we are missing so much biographical information about the earliest editions of the Games, we cannot respond with absolute certainty, but we do think that we have a pretty strong candidate, even though he did not participate in the inaugural 1896 Athens Olympics.

(William Martin’s gravestone)

William Martin, born October 25, 1828, was the grandson of an English industrialist who moved to France to establish a foundry in Rouen. William studied engineering in England at a factory run by Sir William Fairbairn, but returned to Rouen to run the business until 1880, at which pointed he started his own concern, the Déville gas company, where he served as president until his death.

(Martin’s vessel, the Crabe II)

At the 1900 Paris Olympics, Martin competed in six sailing events and placed in what would today be considered the silver and bronze positions in the first and second ½-1 Ton races respectively (the scheme of gold, silver, and bronze medals for every Olympic event did not begin until 1904). He also took sixth and seventh in the 3-10 Ton races and failed to finish either of the open class events. He died February 25, 1905 in Paris at the age of 76. As far as we know, no Olympian, starter or otherwise, was born earlier.

(Selwin Calverley)

Martin was not, however, the first Olympian to die. That unfortunate distinction, to the best of our knowledge, goes to Selwin Calverley. Calverley also competed in sailing at the 1900 Paris Games and took second place in the 20+ Ton class. He died suddenly at the age of 45, on December 30, 1900, about four months after taking part the Olympics. Although several individuals who competed in 1900 died over the next few years, we know of no 1896 competitor who died prior to 1903.

As stated above, however, this information is somewhat tenuous due to all of the missing data on early Olympic competitors. The information that we do have is biased towards particular countries and especially towards medal winners, and thus it is very possible that new research will come to light that challenges these facts. For example, a J. Brassard represented France in masters foil and épée fencing at the 1900 Paris Games and was deceased by the end of the year. Unless he died on December 30 or 31, therefore, he would supplant Calverley as the first Olympian to die, although we simply do not have sufficient information to verify that for certain. For now, perhaps, the true answers to these questions will remain an Olympic mystery.

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