(courtesy of the US Olympic Committee)
COLORADO SPINGS, Colo., April 26. THE United States Olympic Committee has been informed that Hal Haig Prieste, America's oldest Olympian and the world's
oldest Olympic medal-winner, has passed away at the age of 104.
A bronze medalist in platform diving at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games, Prieste died at the Camden, N.J. rehabilitation center where he had lived for several years.
"We are saddened by the loss of one of America's most beloved Olympians," said USOC President and Chairman of the Board Sandra Baldwin. "Hal will not be with us physically at the upcoming Winter Games in Salt Lake, but he will be with us in spirit. His zest for life and youthful exuberance was an inspiration to us all."
Prieste, who had hoped to make a ceremonial appearance at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, was back in the spotlight last September at the 2000 Olympic Games. In Sydney, Prieste became a media celebrity all over again.
"That's Hal for you; everybody in Sydney loved him," said Mrs. Carolyn LaMaina of Wildwood Crest, N.J., who had served as Prieste's travel guide and manager in recent years. "Every newspaper, every feature writer, every TV station wanted to interview him. He did those interviews every day, and he never got tired of doing them."
Over 80 years ago, Prieste shimmied up a 15-foot flagpole in Antwerp and snared an Olympic flag that quite possibly was the first ever created in the now-standard design of five interlocking rings. Prieste had been dared to take the flag by his famed 1920 Olympic teammate, swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku.
The flag remained in one of Prieste's suitcases until he returned it to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch at a special ceremony held days before the opening of the Sydney Games. In
return, Samaranch presented Prieste with a boxed, commemorative Olympic medal.
"It (the flag) was no good to me; I won't be able to hang it up in my room," Prieste said at the time, after being flown to Sydney as a special guest of the International Olympic Committee. "People will think more of me for giving it away than keeping it."
In the 1920 platform diving event at Antwerp, the first Games to be held after World War I, Prieste placed third behind U.S. teammate Clarence Pinkston and Erik Adlerz of Sweden.
In later years, Prieste went on to a show business career that saw him play an original Keystone Kop and appear in 25 movies, take roles on the Broadway stage, and perform in the circus and Ice Follies.
Prieste stayed in excellent physical shape for most of his life, sticking to a routine that included swimming, skating and calisthenics.
In 1996, he was a member of the torch relay escorting the Olympic flame to the Atlanta Olympic Games. In recent years, he'd been honored at events hosted by the New York Athletic Club and the New Jersey Sports Writers Association.
Born in Fresno, Calif. in 1896, the same year the modern Olympic Games were born, Prieste celebrated his 104th birthday last Nov. 23 at the Camden rehabilitation center, displaying the energy of a much younger man."He danced with the girls and had himself a great time," said Mrs. LaMaina.
A memorial service for Prieste will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the Zale Funeral Home, 712 North Whitehorse Pike, Stratford, N.J.
For information, telephone 856-783-5100.
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