July 2020 Updates

We have had a lot to report on at Oldest Olympians this month, and thus we are a little behind on our blogging schedule. We wanted to start catching up today by providing updates on some of the cases that we have covered in the past.

(Charles Dewachtere, as pictured in his obituary)

The case that spurred our desire to post about this topic was that of Belgian marathon runner Charles Dewachtere, born December 22, 1927. Dewachtere’s brief running career began in 1949 and culminated in 1952, when he was crowned the Belgian national marathon champion. This led to his participation at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where, despite having had one of the fastest times that year, he placed 18th due to an injury suffered shortly before the Games. He received a 30-month prison sentence for an altercation that he was involved in shortly after his Olympic appearance, and this effectively ended his athletic career.

We posted about Dewachtere in May 2018, since we had last heard of his being alive in 2007, which was just at the limit of when we would note someone as living on our lists. Unfortunately, we never received any additional updates and thus removed him from the tables. As it turns out, he was still alive, but he died this July 22, at the age of 92.

(Fred Markus, pictured in the July 3, 1954 edition of the Vancouver Sun)

A much more recent case was that of Canadian cyclist Fred Markus, born June 26, 1937. Markus had a successful cycling career that culminated in his appearance at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where he competed in three events. Despite being at the peak of his career, Markus seemed to vanish after his participation in the 1959 Pan American Games. Frequent contributor Connor Mah, however, was able to track him down and learn that he moved to Australia in 1963, where he worked as an industrial engineer. Happily, Markus is still alive and well, although he is a few years shy of being one of the Oldest Olympians. Nonetheless, we look forward to celebrating his 90th birthday in the future!

Next, we were able to resolve the case of the two Olympic Ahmed Labidis, one who represented France in the 10,000 metres race in 1952 and one who represented Tunisia in the marathon in 1960. As we suspected, these two individuals were in fact one person: Mohamed Ali Ahmed Labidi Ben Dali, who was born April 19, 1923 and died July 17, 2008. Thanks to information from his daughter, who responded to our blog post, we were able to solve this mystery.

We also uncovered more information about Hans Frischknecht, born December 31, 1922, who represented Switzerland in the marathon at the 1948 London Olympics and was a non-starter in 1952. We had speculated originally that he may have died in 2001, but recently we discovered his obituary, which demonstrated that he died August 9, 2003, at the age of 80.

Just as we were writing this entry, we received an additional update. We had in the past come up against many false leads for Ken Box, born December 1, 1930, who represented Great Britain in athletics at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Thanks to a comment on our blog from one of his children, however, we learned that he is still alive and living in Australia.

(Leo Wery)

Finally, we were able to solve some of our previous Olympic medal mysteries. We discovered that Ivano Fontana, born November 25, 1926, who won a bronze medal for Italy in middleweight boxing at the 1948 London Games, died December 24, 1993. In the case of Leonard Wery, born March 27, 1926, who won a silver medal for the Netherlands at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, he was alive when last we posted about him, but we uncovered an obituary for him dying August 29, 2019 at the age of 93.

Bob Fowler

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to feature a topic that gives a nod to both Canada Day and Independence Day, and we think that we have found just the case. Today’s is a lighthearted mystery concerning Bob Fowler, a long-distance runner who competed at both the 1904 St. Louis Olympics and the 1906 Intercalated Games. We have complete biographical details on Fowler, yet seemingly the simplest detail is the one that is most mysterious: the nation that he represented.

(Fowler, center, in 1904)

Bob Fowler was born September 18, 1882 in Trinity, Newfoundland, but moved to Boston in 1898. Taking up distance racing in 1901, he competed in the marathon at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, but did not complete the race. He also failed to complete the marathon at the 1906 Intercalated Games, and was entered into the 5 mile event at that tournament, but did not start. He had better luck in other competitions: he was runner-up in the 1907 Boston Marathon, third in the 1905 and 1908 editions, and fourth in 1911. He also set a short-lived record when he won the 1909 Empire City Marathon. Following the end of his active career, he coached for many years and eventually settled back in Massachusetts to work as an electrician. He died October 8, 1957.

Fowler did not become an American citizen until 1907, which means that although he was living in the United States during both of his Olympic appearances, he was technically not an American competitor. Complicating this discussion, however, is the fact that until 1908, Olympians were permitted to represent the nation of their club, regardless of any citizenship questions. As national delegations were often not formalized or “official” before this, some athletes could be debated as to which country they represented, particularly as they were likely not concerned with this manner of identification themselves.

Fowler is one of these cases. In 1906, he was listed as a member of the official delegation from the United States to Athens (the first time the country had organized its team formally), and thus it seems to reasonable to list him as representing the United States. His identification for 1904, however, is debatable. He was living in the United States and competing for an American club, which means that there is an argument for his being American at this tournament too.

(Dominion of Newfoundland Blue Ensign, 1870–1904)

In terms of his homeland, however, he had been born in Newfoundland, which since 1854 had been a self-governing colony and had explicitly rejected confederation with neighboring Dominion of Canada. Newfoundland would gain its own status as a dominion, or semi-independent political entity under the British Crown, in 1907, and would not join Canada until 1949. In 1904, therefore, the territory was still a British colony.

A case could therefore be made that Fowler represented Great Britain, but this would surely not reflect his self-identity at the time and he had no known direct connection to that country. Would this mean that he can be said to have represented Newfoundland? At the time, it was arguably not independent enough to be considered its own nation, but neither was South Africa when it competed unofficially in 1904 and officially in 1908, as the Union of South Africa did not occur until 1910. Again, as with representation, the rules for which territories of countries could compete under their own flag did not even begin to be addressed until 1908, and even then they were largely arbitrary determinations of who could compete independently.

So, who was Fowler representing at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics? Would he perhaps best be categorized as an independent athlete? In the end, perhaps all that matters is that he took part, and that he was, therefore, an Olympian.

Fred Markus

Our blog post for the day concerns a Canadian Olympian who, having been born in 1937, is a little younger than we might normally feature on Oldest Olympians. He was, however, forwarded to us by Connor Mah, who has been infinitely helpful in solving the cases of numerous Olympians, including many of those we have featured previously on this blog. Moreover, as we hope that you will agree, he certainly qualifies as an Olympic Mystery.

(Fred Markus, pictured in the July 3, 1954 edition of the Vancouver Sun)

Alfred H. Markus, born June 26, 1937, entered the Canadian cycling scene as a teenager in the early 1950s and first represented Canada internationally in 1956, before reaching the age of 20, at the Melbourne Olympics, failing to complete the road race and being eliminated in the round one repêchage.

(Markus, second from left, on his way to the Olympics, as pictured in the November 14, 1956 edition of The Province)

Markus’ next major stop was the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, where he was eighth in a field of 26 competitors in the 1 km time trial. He then travelled to the 1959 Pan-American Games, where he was 12th in the kilometre time trial and eliminated in the round one repêchage final. Nonetheless, he seemed to be entering the prime of his career, but it is here where he simply vanishes from the record.

Despite some thorough searches, Mah was unable to find any trace of his activities, sporting or otherwise, following this event, leaving us able only to speculate as to what might have happened. Some of the more likely events include him changing his name or moving to another country, but even these usually leave some trace. In fact, even during his career he seemed to be absent from Toronto City Directories, suggesting perhaps an issue with his surname. The best evidence that could be found was that he might have had some connection to Belgium, but even that is tenuous.

On perhaps a more positive note, Mah was able to solve the case of American gold medal-winning swimmer Eugene R. Rogers, born February 17, 1924, whom we profiled in an earlier blog. He was able to confirm through cemetery records that Rogers did in fact die on December 30, 2017.

Updates on Past Cases

Today on the Oldest Olympians blog, we wanted to provide our readers with updates to several cases that we have discussed in the past, but have now been resolved. This inspiration for this post comes from Gulu Ezekiel, who was able to confirm that Lavy Pinto, who represented India in two track events at the 1952 Helsinki Games, and whom we profiled recently, did in fact die on February 15 at the age of 90.

These new updates come thanks to the diligent work of Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore, who were able to not only confirm the details of some of our past cases, but uncover a plethora of biographical data for many lesser-known Olympians as well (but that is, perhaps, for another blog post). In one case, they even preempted one of our long-term mysteries, that of Canadian boxer Roy Keenan. Keenan, born August 26, 1930, represented Canada in light-welterweight boxing at the 1952 Helsinki Games, where he was eliminated in the first round by Piet van Klaveren of the Netherlands. We had long known about an obituary for a Roy Keenan who died May 21, 2003 that contained insufficient identifying details, and were planning to feature him in a blog post after the 90th anniversary of his birth. Just recently, however, Mah was able to confirm that this was indeed the Olympic boxer.

One case that we have featured in the past that was solved by Mah and Gilmore was that of Jacques Carbonneau, born May 11, 1928, who represented Canada as one of the nation’s two cross-country skiers at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, where he finished 70th in the 18 km event. Through their research, they were able to confirm that an obituary in the March 15, 2007 edition of La Presse, stating that a Jacques Carbonneau, born in 1928, had died two days earlier, was in fact that of the Olympian.

Mah also pointed us in the direction of Carl Horn, son of Olympic fencer Alf Horn, who took part in five events at the 1948 London Games. As it turns out, from a communication with Carl, the Alf Horn who died in August 1978 was not the Olympian – the Olympic Alf Horn died April 5, 1991 in Montreal, which demonstrates that even when the evidence seems convincing, it is often important to get further confirmation.

Finally, a small update to one of our more popular stories, that of Canadian ski jumper Bob Lymburne, is that we were able to confirm from a relative that the story of him walking off into the woods and (presumably) dying was in fact true. While we were unable to ascertain a precise date (or even year), confirmation of the story brings us one step closer to solving that mystery. We hope that you have found these updates useful and interesting, and that you will join us again next week as we look into more Olympic mysteries!

Sigurður Jónsson

Today on Oldest Olympians we are going to address a mystery that was solved recently by one of the OlyMADMen, Martin Kellner. It involves Sigurður Jónsson, who competed in the 200 metres breaststroke swimming event at the 1948 London Olympics. Both of them.

(Sigurður Jónsson of Ystafell, pictured in his 2003 obituary)

The 200 metres breaststroke swimming competition at the 1948 London Games featured two men named Sigurður Jónsson, both representing Iceland and both appearing exclusively in this event. The younger of the two was born July 23, 1924 in Ystafell and was an educator by career. He survived to the semi-finals at the 1948 Olympics and became Nordic champion in the same event the following year. He died on March 13, 2003, at the age of 78.

(Sigurður Jónsson of Reykjavík, pictured in his 2019 obituary)

The older of the two was born December 20, 1922 in Reykjavík and was the first Icelandic man to reach the finals at the European Swimming Championships, which he did in 1947. He went on to represent his country at the 1948 London Olympics, but was eliminated in the first round of the 200 metres breaststroke.

In terms of relevance to Oldest Olympians, this Sigurður Jónsson died April 21, 2019, at the age of 96. This makes him the longest-lived Olympian from Iceland and means that Finnbjörn Þorvaldsson, who we featured several times on our site, was never actually the oldest living Icelandic Olympian. We made this in error in large part due to the confusion between these two individuals, so we hope that our brief post here helps clear matters up!

The First Black Olympian

Given current events, we here at Oldest Olympians felt that we could provide an infinitesimal contribution in emphasizing Black Lives Matter by producing a quick blog on the topic of the first black Olympian. Conveniently enough, it just so happens that this fits the theme of Olympic mysteries. If one were to perform an internet search on this topic, the answer you would likely find is that Constantin Henriquez was the first black Olympian, and that would be correct. Somewhat.

Most sources would list this individual’s full name as Constantin Francisco Henríquez de Zubiría, who won a gold medal in rugby, as well as a silver medal in the tug-of-war, at the 1900 Paris Olympics. While photographs from the rugby tournament show a black athlete, however, those from the tug-of-war competition do not. Realizing this discrepancy led the OlyMADMen to discover that these records were actually discussing two different individuals.

(Francisco Henríquez de Zubiría)

Thanks to assistance from Spanish Olympic historian Fernando Arrechea, it is now believed that the tug-of-war competitor was Francis Henriquez de Zubiría, born December 10, 1869 in Paris and died September 2, 1933. Until a 1917 naturalization, however, Zubiría was a Colombian, which makes him the first representative from that country at the Olympics. You can read a little more about him at his now-public OlyMADMen profile.

(Constantin Henriquez)

So who was the first black Olympian then? That distinction goes to Constantin Henriquez, who won a gold medal in 1900 Olympic rugby tournament, thus also making him the first black Olympic champion. As a competitor, however, he is credited as being a representative of Haiti, thus making the 1900 Olympic rugby squad a “mixed” team rather than just a “French” one. Henriquez was also a track and field athlete, introduced football to Haiti in 1904, and founded the Union Sportive Haïtienne with his brother Alphonse (who would later take part in the music competitions at the 1932 Los Angeles Games). Constantin later studied medicine and was a doctor by profession. We are not yet certain, but we believe, according to Haiti’s civil registration, that he was born c. 1880 and died February 1, 1942 in Port-au-Prince.

Two Recent Deaths

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to take a quick look at the claimed recent deaths of two nonagenarian Olympians for whom we cannot locate obituaries. As usual, we do not have a particular reason to disbelieve the reports, but we also cannot confirm that they are true, so we are sharing this information with the community in the hopes that we may be able to learn more.

(Lavy Pinto, pictured in an article from livemint.com)

Lavy Pinto – Member of India’s track and field athletics delegation to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

Lavy Pinto, born October 23, 1929, represented India in track at the 1952 Helsinki Games, reaching the semifinals of both the 100 and 200 metres events. This was no fluke for Pinto, as he had been the champion in those competitions at the 1951 Asian Games, where he had also taken silver in the 4×100 metres relay. He had one more successful year in his sport and then retired in 1954. He eventually moved to Chicago in 1969, where he was still living half a century later. Someone claiming to be a family member stated that he died February 15 of this year in that city, but they did not reply to our request for more information and, as we could not locate an obituary either, we cannot confirm that he is deceased.

Louis Baise – Member of South Africa’s wrestling delegation to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics

At the same Games attended by Pinto, Louis Baise, born May 4, 1927, represented South Africa in the flyweight, freestyle wrestling tournament, where he survived until round four and placed sixth overall. At every other major international tournament he attended, however, he won gold: the 1950 and 1953 Maccabiah Games and the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Following the latter competition, we had no additional information on his life and, unlike Pinto, we were not aware of his having been alive past his 90th birthday. An anonymous user on Wikipedia, however, claimed that Baise died last month, on May 11, but we have been unable to verify that this is true.

That is all for today, just a short entry to further our goal of research transparency. We aim to have another blog entry next week, so we hope that you will join us! We are also interested in hearing if there are any Oldest Olympians-related topics that you would like covered; if so, let us know in the comments. We are always willing to consider ideas for new blog posts!

Olympedia now open to the public

Some readers of this Olympic blog may remember a post I did at the end of the Rio Olympics concerning our statistical site on www.sports-reference.com/olympicshttps://olympstats.com/2016/08/21/the-olymadmen-and-olympstats-and-sports-reference/.

In that post we noted that we were working to transfer our private research site, www.olympedia.org, to another server and that sports-reference/Olympics would shut down. This has recently occurred and the data on sports-reference/Olympics is no longer easily available to the public.

The Olympedia research site contains the profiles and results of all Olympic athletes and informative descriptions about the Games, events, venues, and much more. It is the most comprehensive database about the Olympic Games and is the result many years of work by a group of Olympic historians and statisticians called the OlyMADmen.

Here are some examples:

Olympedia has always been a product solely of the OlyMADMen and has been a private site that required a password that only we could grant. Olympedia has recently moved to another server, but during this time it has still required password access and did not have open access.

We have recently received permission to open Olympedia to the public, and it will no longer require a password. We thank the International Olympic Committee for working with us on this project, and granting us this permission. We are excited and hope you will be, too.

Olympedia contains all of the information that was previously on sports-reference/Olympics – and actually much more – it is far more detailed. Welcome to Olympedia, the most detailed internet reference source on the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement – www.olympedia.org

The OlyMADMen

Bill Mallon (USA)

Arild Gjerde (NOR)

Jeroen Heijmans (NED)

David Foster (ENG)

Hilary Evans (WLS)

Taavi Kalju (EST)

Wolf Reinhardt (GER)

Martin Kellner (AUT)

Ralf Regnitter (GER)

Ralph Schlüter (GER)

Paul Tchir (CAN/EGY)

Morten Aarlia Torp (NOR)

Stein Opdahl (NOR)

Carl-Johan Johansson (SWE)

George Masin (USA)

Ian Morrison (GBR/ESP)

Michele Walker (CAN)

Kristof Linke (GER)

Andrey Chilikin (RUS)

Rudolf Laky (HUN/GER)

David Tarbotton (AUS)

Ahmed Labidi

Today on Oldest Olympians we are looking into the possibility that two Olympic athletes by the name of Ahmed Labidi are in fact just one individual. While we have a fairly strong feeling that they are one and the same, we wanted to open this issue up to everyone in the hopes that we can uncover some conclusive proof.

The first individual under consideration is known by the full name of Mohamed Ali Ahmed Ben Labidi and was supposedly born April 19, 1923. Representing CA Montreuil, he competed for France in the 10,000 metres event at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and placed 25th among 33 starters. This individual continued representing France through 1955, after which there is no definite information on him. This coincides roughly with Tunisian independence in 1956, after which it is possible that he resided in Tunisia.

The second individual is known by the full name of Ahmed Ben Dali Labidi and was allegedly born May 4, 1922 in Gammouda, Tunisia. A member of Zitouna Sports, he represented Tunisia in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics, finishing 49th among 69 starters. Beyond his Olympic participation, we know nothing further of this individual.

Two sources tie these individuals together as one. The first is the French Wikipedia, which also claims that he died on July 17, 2008. The other is a Tunisian Facebook page, although the only source that it lists for this claim is Wikipedia itself. On the surface, there is nothing glaring to signal an immediate rejection of this claim: they have roughly the same name, are roughly the same age, and competed in roughly the same discipline.

We are contacting the individuals associated with these posts in both Arabic and French in the hopes of learning more and finding some manner of confirmation. In the meantime, we wanted to post about it on this blog not only in the hopes that someone who sees it has some information that might help solve the mystery, but also to present a case that we feel might be of some interest to our readers. As always, we hope that the process of our research, as well as highlighting areas of potential confusion, are worth hearing about.

Finnish Olympians Declared Dead in Absentia

Today on Oldest Olympians we are looking at a quartet of mysteries sent to us by Harri Piironen. All of them concern Finnish Olympians who are believed to have immigrated to North America and subsequently disappeared from the public record.

Jussi Kivimäki – Member of Finland’s wrestling delegation to the 1908 London Olympics

Jussi Kivimäki, born February 5, 1885, represented Finland in the light-heavyweight, Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the 1908 London Games. There, he received a bye in round one, but then lost by decision to Jacob van Westrop of the Netherlands in round two and was thus eliminated from the tournament. The Helsinki champion of 1907 and 1908, he next competed at the unofficial 1909 European Championships, where he was sixth, and then immigrated to North America.

(Did Kivimäki become Ole Samson?)

Here sources differ: most everyone agrees that he was a professional wrestler in Canada for a time after 1910. Some believe that he changed his name to John Kivimäki or John Thompson. At least one researcher believes that he might have been Ole Samson. Some believe that he was a member of the Finnish Workers’ Sports Federation during the 1920s and 1930s; others think that this is a misidentification. Regardless, no one has been able to locate a date of death and thus he was declared dead in absentia with a retroactive date of January 1, 1976.

Emil Holm – Member of Finland’s sport shooting delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Emil Holm, born September 2, 1877, represented Finland in the three positions, 300 metres shooting tournament at the 1912 Stockholm Games, where he was 49th individually and 5th with the team. The following year, his building firm went bankrupt and he fled to the United States, possibly settling in Galveston, Texas. Former fencing Olympian, and now researcher, George Masin discovered Holm in the draft registry for World War I dated September 12, 1918, living in Houston and with a next-of-kin as his Siri Regina Holm of Helsingford. Emil was declared dead in absentia with a date of January 1, 1968.

Kalle Leivonen – Member of Finland’s wrestling delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Kalle Leivonen, born September 17, 1886, represented Finland in the featherweight, Greco-Roman wrestling tournament at the 1912 Stockholm Games. There he survived until round seven, only to be defeated by upcoming silver medalist Georg Gerstacker of Germany. Two years later, Leivonen immigrated to the United States.

(Account of Leivonen’s accident, from the May 26, 1927 edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel)

We located records of Leivonen’s arrival in Massachusetts in 1914, where he ran a business and lived until at least 1927. That year, he was rescued after nearly drowning in an automobile accident. Evidence suggests that he was living in Manhattan by 1930, but after that our trail went cold. Without further information, he was declared dead in absentia as of January 1, 1978.

Hannes Kärkkäinen – Member of Finland’s diving delegation at the 1924 Paris Olympics

Hannes Kärkkäinen, born July 17, 1902, is perhaps the most mysterious of all. He represented Finland in platform diving at the 1924 Paris Games, where he placed ninth. He is known to have left Finland in 1926, but after that his movements are not certain. One theory is that he emigrated to the United States and eventually died in North Sterling, Connecticut. The other is that he was the Juho Juhonpoika Kärkkäinen who was killed in the Soviet Union’s Great Purge in 1938. As neither theory has been proven, he is listed with a death in absentia date of January 1, 1993.

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