Flag Returned by 103-Year-Old Olympian
S Y D N E Y, Australia, Sept. 11 -- Eighty years after he shimmied up a15-foot flagpole to grab a souvenir, a former Olympic divingmedalist handed back his ripped-off trinket — the original Olympicflag.
Hal Haig “Harry” Prieste, now 103 and confined to a wheelchairmost of the time, said today that he took theflag as a dare at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, and kept itin a suitcase.
The flag is now regarded as the first to feature the five ringson a white background that have become the Olympic symbol.
Prieste only discovered its importance during an interview at aU.S. Olympic Committee awards dinner in 1997, when a reporter toldhim the original flag had gone missing and never been located.
“I thought I ain’t going to be around much longer — it’s nogood in a suitcase,” Prieste said after handing the folded linenflag to International Olympic Committee president Juan AntonioSamaranch at the start of the IOC’s annual meeting.
“It was no good to me — I won’t be able to hang it up in myroom,” said Prieste, who is considered the oldest living Olympicmedalist. “People will think more of me for giving it away thankeeping it.”
‘It Was No Good to Me’
IOC vice president Anita DeFrantz introduced Prieste to thesession as a “living legend,” adding that he had run in theOlympic torch relay at Atlanta in 1996 at the age of 100. At thatage he was still doing push ups and had just quit ice skating.
He also was greeted by IOC member Jacques Rogge, arepresentative of Belgium, where the flag was snatched.
The flag is slightly discolored and is tattered along the edgewhere Prieste ripped it off the flagpole, but otherwise in goodcondition, the USOC said.
After the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Prieste returned to Californiaand embarked on an entertainment career, becoming one of theoriginal Keystone Kops and appearing in 25 movies.
He said Charlie Chaplin was a pal and that he was in the studiowhen the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy was formed.