By Novica Mihajlovic
LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - The world's oldest Olympic champion, Slovenian
gymnast Leon Stukelj, died Monday, only four days before turning 101.
``Sadly, I have to confirm that Leon Stukelj died in Maribor hospital
at 0300 due to a heart failure,'' Tomaz Zajc, Stukelj's friend and
secretary, told Reuters.
Stukelj, who was only two years younger than the modern Olympics, won
six medals including two golds in the Paris Games of 1924 on the
horizontal bar and in the all-round competition.
Stukelj called an ambulance in the middle of the night and died soon
afterwards in Maribor hospital.
``Stukelj's death is a huge loss for us. He was a living legend,
founder of Slovenia's Olympic committee and the country's image abroad
was tightly linked to him,'' Tone Jagodic, general secretary of
Slovenian Olympic Committee, told Reuters.
Stukelj was named Slovenian personality of the year by local press in
He was born on November 12, 1898, in Novo Mesto in southeast Slovenia
where he was greeted by thousands during last year's celebration of his
A judge by profession, he was a fit and energetic man until the last
days of his life. He won an Olympic silver in the rings in 1936 when he
was 37 years old.
Aged 100 he was still able to exercise regularly on the rings installed
at his home in Maribor more than 50 years ago.
He always traced his longevity to eating moderately and drinking a
glass of red wine every day.
Stukelj, whose portrait has been used on Slovenian stamps, won his
golds competing for Yugoslavia, then a new country created from the
remnants of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires which crumbled in World War
He missed the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics because Yugoslavia were unable
to pay for the trip.
In 1991, Yugoslavia itself crumbled and Stukelj became a citizen of
independent Slovenia. In 1992, Stukelj attended the opening ceremony of
the Barcelona Olympics and watched athletes from Slovenia march behind
their own flag for the first time.
He also won 14 medals at world championships.
Stukelj was a honorary guest at the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996 in
Atlanta where he met President Clinton.
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