Ágnes Keleti is the greatest gymnast produced by Hungary, but one whose life and career were intertwined with the politics of her country and her religion. She first became interested in gymnastics shortly before World War II and her training began at the well-known Jewish VAC Club of Budapest. She quickly became a top young gymnast, but her career was interrupted by World War II. During the war, her father was removed to Auschwitz, where he was killed by the Nazis. Ágnes Keleti and the rest of her family survived by finding refuge in a “Swedish House” administered by Raoul Wallenberg, who became quite famous for assisting Jews to escape from concentration camps. After World War II, Keleti returned to gymnastics and won her first Hungarian championship in 1946, on the uneven parallel bars. In 1947, she made her first international impact when she dominated the Central European Gymnastics Championships. After the War, she initially earned her living as a fur worker, but she was later a demonstrator at the Faculty of Gymnastics of the Budapest School for Physical Culture. Keleti was also an accomplished musician, playing the cello, and she played professionally.
After serving as an alternate in 1948, Keleti competed in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games, at which she won 10 medals, including five gold. At the 1954 World Gymnastics Championships she won the uneven parallel bars, for her only individual world title, and also was on the winning Hungarian team in the team portable apparatus event. Keleti won four medals at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, including an individual gold in the floor exercises. But her greatest gymnastics effort came at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when she won six medals, including four gold. In the individual apparatus finals, she won the balance beam, floor exercises, and the uneven parallel bars. A poor performance in the horse vault, where she finished 23rd, cost her the all-around individual gold, at which she finished second to the Soviet Union’s Larisa Latynina. Keleti also won gold as part of the Hungarian team in the portable apparatus event.
But despite her success in Melbourne, politics had again interceded in her career. In late October, Israel invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and then shortly before the 1956 Olympics, on 4 November 1956, Soviet tanks entered Budapest to quell an uprising there. The two events led to a small boycott of the Olympics. Although Hungary competed, many of its athletes defected, and Keleti was among them. She stayed in Australia and then settled in Israel, where she taught physical education at the Orde Wingate Institute and later became the national women’s gymnastics coach.
Athlete Olympic Results Content
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