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Speedskating: Olympic great "King Happy" Andersen dies at 90

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian speedskating great Hjalmar Andersen, who won three gold medals in three days to become the most decorated athlete at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, died on Wednesday only days after celebrating his 90th birthday, his family said.

Known affectionately as "King Happy", Andersen died in an Oslo hospital after suffering a fall in his home on Monday.

Two weeks previously he had said he hoped Norway would win the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and he would be there to watch.

Andersen - the only triple gold medalist at the Oslo Games - had achieved international renown in 1951 when he won the European 10,000 meter title, despite taking a fall and having to repeat the race after just a brief rest.

Already a world and European champion, Andersen opened a huge lead but fell 7,000 meters into the race when a photographer's flash, set up near the track, blinded him.

Although he got up and tried to continue, the fall damaged his skates and race officials pulled him from the ice.

Getting just one hour rest, Andersen raced again, easily winning the 10,000 and receiving his trophy from Norway's King Haakon, who delayed an official program so he could watch the repeated race.

Andersen went on to win the 1500m, 5000m and the 10,000m - the latter by a record margin of 24.8 seconds - in the 1952 Winter Olympics.

He remained one of Norway's most popular sporting personalities, receiving a statue along with Marathon great Grete Waitz in front of Oslo's Bislett Stadium.

Andersen retired after the 1952 Games but returned two years later to compete at one more Olympics, taking sixth in the 10,000 meters.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Alan Baldwin)

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