Saturday, April 28, 2001
Keystone Kop, Olympian Prieste dies
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.
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
"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
"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
Visiting hours were set for Friday night at a funeral home in
Stratford, N.J. Prieste is to be buried in Inglewood, Calif.
|Hal Haig Prieste, 103 at the time, presents the stolen Olympic flag to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch during the 2000 Games.|