Oldest Olympic medalist hale, hearty Kiviat, 98, thrives on cookies, scotch MACCABIAH GAMES

November 04, 1990|By Bill Free

Abel Kiviat, 98, is in a class by himself.

He is the world's oldest living Olympic medalist and prefers chocolate-chip cookies and a nip of Scotch whisky before his evening meal to almost anything else.

When Kiviat was informed two years ago that he was going to receive duplicates of the missing gold and silver Olympic medals he won for track and field in the 1912 Summer Games at Stockholm, Sweden, his response was, "But what about the chocolate-chip cookies I was promised by Nabisco?"

Not even an invitation to the White House to meet PresidenBush on May 16, 1989 seemed to rate in the class with chocolate-chip cookies and scotch.

"I don't think I want to go," said Kiviat. "My clothes don't fit."

After being fitted with a new suit and shoes, he was convinced to go to the Oval Office to meet the president.

But that didn't change his low-key approach to the meeting.

"I didn't say much," said Kiviat.

Kiviat was in Baltimore Thursday to help the city officially announce that the North American Maccabi Youth Games -- a prelude to the 14th World Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1993 -- are coming here in August 1992.

"I let him make the conversation," Kiviat said. "After all, he's the president and I'm just a regular guy."

Regular guy?

Kiviat held the world record for the 1,500-meter run (3 minutes, 55.8 seconds) from 1912 to 1930. He was heavily favored to win the Olympic gold medal in that event in 1912 but wound up with a silver medal when the judges decided against him in what looked like a dead-heat finish with England's Arnold Jackson.

Kiviat said he still has nightmares about the photo finish.

"I wake up and wonder why I didn't win," he said. "Some of my teammates felt like I had won, and I thought at least it was a dead heat. The officials conferred for 15 minutes before deciding that Jackson won."

Kiviat, along with four other runners, also won a gold medal for the United States in the 3,000-meter relay in the Summer Games in 1912.

He roomed with the legendary Jim Thorpe at those Games and said of Thorpe: "He was a wonderful guy with empty pockets. He never had a cent. He would eat or drink anything. He came back to our room after the Olympics were over and woke me up by kicking in the lower panel on the door. He was the greatest athlete I ever saw."

Kiviat is 98 but looks and acts as if he is 68. He has a remarkablmemory, he can turn a phrase in the manner of a good headline writer, he won a 100-meter race (47.7 seconds) in the New Jersey Senior Olympics last September and still loves to flirt.

"Wherever we take Abel, he's in a better mood if we have a beautiful young girl to escort him," said Glenn Kasper, who takes Kiviat around the country to promote track events.

Kasper is chief of staff of the New Jersey Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Kiviat, who grew up on Staten Island, N.Y., lives in a retirement community in Lakehurst, N.J., and is a member of the council.

Kiviat said people almost always ask him his secret for a long and active life.

The answer is, "No condiments [salt, ketchup, chili sauce, spices], no fried foods, no shellfish."

Of course, chocolate-chip cookies and scotch are OK.

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