ERNESTINE LEBRUN, Competitor of Aileen Riggin
Another quick blog entry to provide a brief update on Oldest Olympians. This time, we are updating our list of last survivors from early editions of the Games. At the time we first presented this feature, we noted that American diver and swimmer Aileen Riggin was believed to be the last known survivor from the 1920 Antwerp Games and wrote the following: “Although she died at the age of ‘only’ 96 years, 170 days on October 19, 2002, we have been unable to locate another candidate for the last survivor of the 1920 Antwerp Games, although it is certainly possible, given how much data on this edition we are missing, that another contender will emerge in the future.”
Thanks to researcher and historian Taavi Kalju, we can now identify someone from those Games who outlived Riggin by nearly three years. Swimmer Ernestine Lebrun, born February 26, 1906, represented France in two editions of the Summer Olympics, competing in four freestyle events between 1920 and 1924, but never making it past the first round. She also helped her teammates come in fifth in the 4×100 metres freestyle relay in 1924. Domestically, she won 12 national titles, as well as the women’s Traversée de Paris à la nage twice.
Ernestine Lebrun made her international swimming début for France at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, where she was eliminated in the opening rounds of both the 100 and 300 metres freestyle events. She had similar results four years later, at the Paris Games, with the 400 metres replacing the 300 metres. She was also fifth that year with the French team in the 4×100 metres freestyle relay, alongside Gilberte Mortier, Bienna Pélégry, and Mariette Protin. She was much more successful domestically, winning 12 national championships between 1921 and 1925 in the 50, 100, 400, and 1000 metres freestyle competitions. She twice held the French women’s 400 metres freestyle record, from 1921 through 1923 and again from 1924 through 1926. She also won the women’s Traversée de Paris à la nage in 1924 and 1925, and was runner up in 1923. When she died on May 6, 2005, at the age of 99, she was the last known survivor from the 1920 Antwerp Games.
Lebrun married Eugène Basse in 1930 and lived as Ernestine Basse until her death on May 6, 2005, at the age of 99 years, 69 days, meaning that she long outlived Riggin and was still alive nearly 85 years after he Olympic appearance. We were unable to find any mention of her subsequent career or later activities, which suggests that she did not seek the limelight after her marriage, and perhaps this is why her death went unnoticed, at least by most of the world. Nonetheless, this new discovery gives her the status of last-known survivor of the 1920 Antwerp Games, even though she did not quite make 100 years, and updates our previous post.