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Saturday, April 28, 2001
Keystone Kop, Olympian Prieste dies
Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Hal Haig Prieste, America's oldest Olympian who once stole the original Olympic flag and acted in the first Keystone Kops movies, has died at 104.

Hal Haig Prieste
Hal Haig Prieste, 103 at the time, presents the stolen Olympic flag to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch during the 2000 Games.
He died April 19 at the Sunbridge Health Care Center in Camden, N.J., the U.S. Olympic Committee said. In his later years, Prieste had trouble hearing and was going blind. He had been confined to a wheelchair most of the time.

Prieste won a bronze medal in platform diving at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, placing third behind teammate Clarence Pinkston and Erik Adlerz of Sweden.

The USOC said Prieste was the world's oldest Olympic medal winner.

"We are saddened by the loss of one of America's most beloved Olympians," USOC president Sandra Baldwin said. "His zest for life and youthful exuberance was an inspiration to us all."

Prieste briefly appeared at the 2000 Sydney Games, where he returned his souvenir – the original Olympic flag.

At the 1920 Games, he climbed a 15-foot flagpole and took the flag as a dare, keeping it in a suitcase. The flag is now regarded as the first to feature the five rings on a white background that have become the Olympic symbol.

Prieste discovered its importance during an interview at a USOC dinner in 1997 when a reporter told him the original flag had never been located.

"I thought I ain't going to be around much longer – it's no good in a suitcase," Prieste said after handing the folded linen flag to International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch at the start of the IOC's annual meeting in Sydney.

"It was no good to me – I won't be able to hang it up in my room," he added. "People will think more of me for giving it away than keeping it."

Before the Sydney Olympics, IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz introduced Prieste as a "living legend," adding that he had run in the Olympic torch relay at Atlanta in 1996 at 100. At that age he was still doing push-ups and had just quit ice skating.

Carolyn LaMaina of Wildwood Crest, N.J., who helped care for Prieste during the past eight years, said one of his greatest gifts was his sense of humor.

"He was kind of like the male version of 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown,' " she said. "And that was the real inspiration to every one who met him. He was onery. He was funny. And he was a survivor.

"His greatest thrill in life was making people laugh."

Prieste also was a believer in daily exercise.

"He was exercising the night before he died," she said. "And I guess his philosophy was right because he lived to be 104."

Prieste was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1896, the same year the modern Olympics began.

Later, he played an original Keystone Kops character in silent pictures and appeared in 25 movies and on the Broadway stage. He counted Charlie Chaplin among his friends.

Prieste later moved to Broadway, working vaudeville before joining a circus as a comedian and skating in the Ice Follies.

He is survived by a niece, Lenore Turrill; a great-niece and great-great nephew.

Visiting hours were set for Friday night at a funeral home in Stratford, N.J. Prieste is to be buried in Inglewood, Calif. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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