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The BBC's Harry Peart in Sydney
"He went on to become a popular entertainer"
 real 28k

Monday, 11 September, 2000, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Unique Olympic flag reappears
Hal Haig Prieste with original Olympic flag
The flag will go on show at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne
The world's oldest surviving Olympic medallist, 103-year-old American Hal Haig Prieste, has handed back a unique Olympic flag which he stole at the end of the 1920 games in Antwerp .

It was no good to me - I won't be able to hang it up in my room

Hal Haig Prieste
Mr Prieste, who won a bronze medal in diving, said he had climbed up the flagpole at night on a dare from a team-mate, Duke Kahanamoku. He escaped with his trophy by giving Belgian police the slip.

He then kept the flag, the first to fly the famous five ring Olympic symbol, hidden in a suitcase for the next 80 years.

The flag will now be displayed at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Mr Prieste handing over the flag to IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch
Mr Prieste hands over the flag to IOC president

"I thought I ain't going to be around much longer - it's no good in a suitcase," Mr Prieste said.

He handed the folded linen flag to the president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, in Sydney.

"It was no good to me - I won't be able to hang it up in my room," said Mr Prieste.

"People will think more of me for giving it away than keeping it," he added.

Ageing gracefully

The Olympic torch arrived in Sydney on Monday, more than three months after leaving Greece, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

At the start of a three-day meeting of senior Olympic officials, IOC vice-president Anita DeFrantz introduced Mr Prieste as a living legend.

Mr Prieste ran in the torch relay for the 1996 Atlanta Games at the age of 100, still does exercises and has just given up ice-skating, Mrs DeFrantz said.

Hal Prieste's medal
The diving bronze medal won by Mr Prieste in 1920

The importance of Mr Prieste's acquisition was not realised until three years ago, when a reporter at a US Olympic dinner told him the original flag had gone missing.

Mr Prieste's escapades did not end there.

He went on to become a popular entertainer, starring as one of the original Keystone Cops in early film comedy.

Life of comedy

Referring to his former team-mate in Antwerp, Mr Prieste said: "We were together all the time and we did a lot of comedy tricks, like Laurel and Hardy. He was a great guy. He had a great sense of humour".

Born in California in 1896, he now lives at a retirement home in Camden, New Jersey.

"To him, his whole life has been a comedy routine," commented his chaperone, Carolyne LaMaina.

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