Hal Haig Prieste, 104; Oldest U.S. Olympian
Hal Haig Prieste, America’s oldest Olympian who, in a youthful prank, once stole the original Olympic flag, has died at 104.
Prieste 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 to use a wheelchair most of the time. He also had trouble hearing and was going blind.
The winner of a bronze medal in platform diving at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, Prieste placed third behind teammate Clarence Pinkston and Erik Adlerz of Sweden.
“We are saddened by the loss of one of America’s most beloved Olympians,” U.S. Olympic Committee President Sandra Baldwin said. “His zest for life and youthful exuberance was an inspiration to us all.”
Prieste briefly appeared at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, where he returned his souvenir--the original Olympic flag.
At the 1920 Games, he climbed a 15-foot flagpole and took the flag on a dare, and kept it in a suitcase. The flag is 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 an Olympic 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 flag to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Before the Sydney Olympics, committee 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.
Prieste was born in Fresno in 1896, the year the modern Olympics began.
Later, he played a Keystone Kops character in silent movies and appeared in 25 movies. He counted Charlie Chaplin among his friends.
Prieste later moved on to Broadway, working in 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.