Guttmann or Hajós - it remains Jewish Olympic gold

  • 1-Milner Jack
We are in another Olympic year when we once again look to see how much Jewish representation, other than the Israeli team, will be in Rio de Janeiro. The Americans are usually good for the odd Jewish team member, but in the early days of the modern Olympics it was usually countries like Hungary who had most Jews in their teams.
by JACK MILNER | Feb 17, 2016

The first Jew to win an Olympic medal since the Games were reinstated in 1896 - at the Athens Games - was Alfred Hajós, a Hungarian Jew. He became the Olympics' first-ever swimming champion, winning the 100m. He also went on to win the 1200m race.

Hajós was born in Budapest, as Arnold Guttmann. He was 13 when he felt compelled to become a good swimmer after his father drowned in the Danube River. He took the name Hajós (which means “sailor” in Hungarian) for his athletic career because it was a Hungarian name and anti-Semitism was rife in the country.

Hajós was an architecture student when the Athens Games took place. He was allowed to compete, but permission from the university to miss classes was difficult to obtain. In fact, when he returned to the university the dean did not congratulate Hajós on his Olympic success, but instead said: "Your medals are of no interest to me, but I am eager to hear your replies in your next examination."

In those days the swimming events were not staged in a beautifully kept swimming pool but rather in the Mediterranean Sea where swimmers had to battle the elements. The 18-year-old Hajós won his two medals in extremely cold conditions with the water temperature about 13 degrees Celsius, with waves crashing down on the swimmers.

Before the 1200m race, he smeared his body with a thick layer of grease, but it proved to be of little protection against the cold. "My will to live completely overcame my desire to win,” he later admitted.

At a dinner honouring Olympic winners, the Crown Prince of Greece asked Hajós where he had learned to swim so well. Hajós replied: "In the water."

Ironically, the athlete he beat in the 100m swim was Otto Herschmann, a Jewish Austrian swimmer, fencer, lawyer and sports official. Herschmann finished just half a length behind Hajós with the balance of the swimmers unsighted. So it was a Jewish one and two in the event.

From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics included "art competitions" in which medals were awarded for architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. Those medal totals are no longer included in the official tally, but they were popular at the time. Hajós, who became a renowned architect, won for his design of a stadium.

Despite winning the competition, he was only awarded a silver medal. The officials decided not to award the gold in architecture that year. No reason was ever given.

Herschmann also won a silver medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics, in the men's team sabre event in fencing and is one of only three athletes to date to have won an Olympic medal in more than one sport.

Other Jewish fencers who participated in the 1912 Olympics included Hungarian gold-medal winning sabre fencers Dr Jeno Fuchs, Dr Dezso Foldes, Lajos Werkner, and Dr Oszkar Gerde, and Austrian silver-medal winning sabre fencer Albert Bogen.

Herschmann served as president of the Austrian Olympic Committee from 1912 to 1914 and then as president of the Austrian Swimming Federation from 1914 to 1932.

Herschmann was in private practice as a lawyer in the 1940s but was persecuted by the Nazis. On January 14, 1942 he was arrested and deported from Vienna to Izbica concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. He died on June 17, 1942 in the Sobibor extermination camp.



Maccabi SA junior cricketers look to 2017




The Olympic Games take place later this year and the next Maccabiah is due to take place in July 2017.

Maccabi SA is beginning preparations for the Maccabiah and Gauteng junior cricket trials will be taking place over two Sundays - on March 6 and 13 - at Crawford Sandton, ‪from 08:30 to 13:00.  

Only players born between 1999 and 2002 are eligible for selection for the 2017 Games. Players who would like to be selected are expected to be present at both days of the trials and no exceptions will be made.

The trial registration fee is R200. Players must come dressed in white cricket kit and are required to bring their own cricket balls.

The Maccabi Junior Cricket Management Committee has selected a professional broad-based and independent panel of six selectors for these trials, according to Myron Michel, convener of Maccabi SA junior cricket. No parent, Maccabi administrator or committee member is on the selection panel.

Some 39 players will be selected at these Gauteng regional trials and together with players selected from other provinces, will be eligible to compete at Maccabi national trials on Sunday May 1 and Monday May 2 in Johannesburg at Crawford Sandton. A team of 15 players will be selected at the national trials to represent South Africa at the 2017 Maccabiah.

* Should you be interested in registering your child for the Gauteng trials, please forward his name and date of birth to [email protected]. Closing date for entries is Sunday, February 28.



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