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.

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!

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