The Autograph Man takes names to break records

By Chris Yee [Student Affairs Bureau Chief]

One weekend in March, just before the Paralympics were set to wrap up, I finally got out of the house and went to see the 2010 Winter Games medals before they left town forever. Obviously, it seemed nearly everybody in town had that thought, for there were still enough people to cause a seven-hour lineup.

So began our day of small talk with our neighbours and the occasional split to buy food or check out the art gallery while one or two of us held our place in line.

Oh, and I met an Olympic athlete who asked me for my autograph. You might have met him too, during one of your own Olympic excursions.

Babits

His name is Laslo Babits, 52, of Surrey. You can call him The Autograph Man. He is the holder of the record for the highest Olympic javelin finish by a Canadian — during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games he placed eighth. But, Babits is aiming for another record – to get in the in the Guiness Book of World Records for the most autographs collected by one person (which isn’t a Guinness world record, at least not yet.)

Babits started collecting the autographs in 1989, when he was still an Olympic athlete, training in Key West, Florida for the 1992 Games. When that appearance didn’t pan out, owing to funding problems, he aimed for the 1996 Games instead.

But, as the 1996 Games approached, a car accident, then a mushroom-picking expedition gone awry (he needed a liver transplant after eating a poisonous mushroom) ended those plans.

Still Babits continued collecting his autographs, as an Olympic attache and as a tourist at a number of other events, like the World Series and the World Cup – “pretty much anywhere where you can find people,” as Babits put it.

“You can learn a lot about people [collecting autographs]… you meet people from all walks of life,” Babits added.

In filling out twenty-two books of autographs over twenty-one years, Babits has not only been to places like Atlanta and Key West but to Seoul, Caracas, and most of Europe. He’s gotten autographs in “five or six” different languages, including German, Italian, and Japanese.

He collected autographs from a human mannequin in an Atlanta store (who he almost took for a real mannequin), and also from various celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Dolph Lundgren, or Drago from Rocky IV. He even collected autographs while fleeing Hurricane Andrew – it hit when he was in Florida in 1992.

But one of the best autographs he recieved was a little boy’s doodle; “You can feel the energy coming out of [the] autograph,” Babits said.

What’s a day collecting autographs like? Babits says he spends four to six hours daily collecting autographs, usually logging 500 to 600 a day. But not everyone warms up to the idea of giving an Olympian their autograph; Babits estimates thirty per cent won’t sign his book.

Perhaps next year, when he hopes to have collected over 100,000 autographs, Babits will send in his achievement to the Guinness World Records, but for now he’s still at it, collecting autographs, being The Autograph Man.

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