Keleti, Agnes : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Keleti, Agnes


Country Represented:

Years Competed:
1948, 1952, 1956

Medals Received:
gold, silver, bronze

Olympic Info:
Keleti was the most successful Jewish female Olympian in history, capturing a total of ten medals (third all-time in Olympic history for women), an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that her five gold medals were all won after she had turned 30 -- (a fourth all-time Olympic record), Agnes made the 1948 Hungarian gymnastic team but an injury caused her to miss the competition. She was nonetheless awarded a silver medal when Hungary finished second in the team competition.

By the time the 1952 Helsinki Olympics came around, Agnes was 31 years old, and took a more pragmatic approach to the Games. She observed, "I didn't really think I could win anything, but I was getting the chance to see the world." Keleti surprised everyone by winning the gold in the floor exercises, the silver in the combined team event, and taking the bronze in both the hand apparatus-team and uneven parallel bars. She also placed sixth in the women's all-around competition, and fourth in the balance beam.

At the 1956 Melbourne Games, Keleti dominated her competition. At the astonishingly advanced age (for a gymnast) of 35, she won gold medals in the floor exercise, balance beam, parallel bars, and combined exercise-team. She also won silver in both the individual all-around and team all-around competitions.

During the 1956 Games, the Soviet Union sent troops into Hungary to quash a revolution aimed at attempting to end the country's Communist domination. Like most of the Hungarian delegation, Keleti refused to return home after the Olympics. Luckily, she got her mother and sister out of Hungary and they eventually emigrated to Israel.

Career Highlights:
Keleti began to study gymnastics at the age of four in Budapest and won her first national title at the age of 16; she would go on to win a remarkable ten national titles in her career. Agnes began focusing on the 1940 Olympics, but Nazi aggression caused the cancellation of the Games for the first time since World War I. At the beginning of World War II, Keleti's father was sent to Auschwitz, where he would eventually perish.

Agnes's mother and sister went into hiding during the Holocaust and were saved by the legendary Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg. Agnes purchased the papers of a Christian girl and escaped to a small Hungarian village, where she worked as a maid. After the war, Keleti learned that her mother and sister had survived the concentation camps, but that her father and all of her relatives had died.

Agnes returned to competition and won the gold medal in the uneven bars at the 1954 World Championship. She also also took the bronze medal in the balance beam, finished fourth in the floor exercise, and helped Hungary capture the silver medal in the team competition. During her illustrious career, Keleti also won the all-around Hungarian Championship from 1947-1956. Based on archived world rankings (from, Agnes was ranked among the world's top five gymnasts from 1952-1956, reaching a high of No.2 in 1956.

After emigrating to Israel that year, Agnes became a physical education instructor at Tel Aviv college (later the Wingate Institute for Sport in Netanya). She developed a number of national gymnastic teams, and as of 1995, she was coaching gymnastics in Tel Aviv. In December 1991, Keleti was inducted into the Hungarian Sports Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Jan. 9, 1921

Budapest, Hungary

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Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)