Agnes Keleti, the most decorated female Jewish Olympic athlete of all-time, celebrated her 99th birthday on January 9, making this a prime time to shine the light on her accomplishments on and off the gymnastics floor.
You don’t have to look far to see how fierce Keleti has been throughout her entire life. Yes, she’s a 10-time medal winner, including five golds, from the 1952 Helsinki Games and the 1956 Melbourne Games. Yes, she won them in her 30s, representing Hungary and competing against women roughly a decade younger. But, she’s also a Holocaust Survivor after taking on a false identity and working as a maid after her father and uncles were killed at Auschwitz.
As for other Jewish Olympians, only swimmers Mark Spitz and Dara Torres have won more medals.
While many point to her Olympic hardware first, Keleti will tell you that she treasures her time as a gymnast for a different reason.
“It’s not the medals that are significant but the experiences that came with them,” Keleti told The Associated Press. “I loved gymnastics because it was possible to travel for free.”
Keleti, who currently resides in Budapest near her son, but lived in Israel for decades, founded Israel’s national gymnastics team.
She trained multiple generations of gymnasts and also taught at the Wingate Institute. As for life away from the sport, she met her late husband and together, they had two boys.
“I grew up knowing my mother was Wonder Woman,” one son told The Times of Israel when Keleti turned 98. “She ran the household, she taught us music, helped with our homework, cooked meals so tasty that all the neighbors’ kids wanted to stay for dinner. Oh, and in her spare time she was an international and local celebrity who traveled to coach athletes at the Olympic Games. No biggie.”
And perhaps she still is Wonder Woman. She may not perform the splits on the ground anymore, but she was doing them standing up or perched on a couch well into her 90s.
Frankly, she’s a kid at heart, and believes younger generations should learn about “the joy of life,” in spite of the darkness that can arise.
And that’s worthy of a medal, too.