The Slovenia Times

Gymnast Štukelj crowned Olympic champion a century ago

A bust and a picture of the first Slovenian Olympic champion Leon Štukelj (1898-1999). Photo: Rasto Božič/STA

As athletes are counting down to the Paris Olympic Games, the city of Novo Mesto is paying tribute to gymnast Leon Štukelj, the first Slovenian Olympic champion, who won his first two Olympic golds in Paris a century ago.

Štukelj was born on 12 November 1898 in Rudolfovo, which is how Novo Mesto was called at the time. It was there that he started gymnastics, joining the sports association Sokol.

Although he spent most of his life in Maribor, where he died in 1999 four days before turning 101, he kept his birth town in his heart.

Štukelj won his first two Olympic gold medals in July 1924 - in all-around and on the horizontal bar, following the achievement up with gold on the rings in Amsterdam in 1928.

Novo Mesto will remember Štukelj's feat with an exhibition opening in the town's main square on 9 July.

Jasna Dokl Osolnik, director of the regional Dolenjska Museum, says it is not known exactly on what day he won any of his first two gold medals.

"What is known is that the competitions in Paris took place from 17 to 19 July 1924 and that the medal ceremony took place on 20 July 1924," she has told the Slovenian Press Agency.

Six Olympic medals, three golds

Štukelj competed for the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, as Slovenian lands were part of that state between the two world wars.

Out of a total of six Olympic medals Štukelj won, three were golds, and he was also a five-time world champion. He won his last Olympic medal in Berlin in 1936, finishing second on the rings, when he was 38.

As the world's oldest living Olympic gold medallist of the time, he featured at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, US, impressing everyone, including the then President Bill Clinton, as he walked into the stadium with a spring in his step.

He remained active until his death, exercising daily on the rings at his home. Novo Mesto organised a big celebration for his 100th birthday.

This time the celebrations will also include the premiere of Klemen Dvornik's documentary Leon Štukelj's All-Around (Mnogoboj Leona Štuklja).

There will also be a talk with another Slovenian Olympic gold medallist, gymnast Miro Cerar, at the Goga book shop.

The celebrations started a few days ago, when the Olympic torch arrived in the city before lighting the Olympic fire at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The torch event was followed by a talk with the director of the Dolenjska Museum, herself a former top gymnast who knew Štukelj personally.

Štukelj's family donated the gymnast's personal belongings, among them over 3,000 photos, 800 documents and 600 other items, including his medals, to the museum in 2019.


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