Keep an eye on the Jewish Olympic brigade

  • 1-Milner Jack
The Olympic Games kick off in Rio de Janeiro on Friday and there will be quite a few Jewish - or Israeli - participants to watch at this year’s event.
by JACK MILNER | Aug 02, 2016


Israel is sending its largest contingent ever to this year’s Games - at least 47 athletes. Perhaps one of their most interesting entry is that of Lonah Chemtai. The 26-year-old hails from Kenya and is Israel’s most accomplished female long-distance runner. Chemtai managed to get her Israeli citizenship just before the deadline and will represent Israel in the 3000m hurdles race and in the marathon.

Chemtai arrived in Israel in late 2008, to work as an au pair for the children of Kenya’s consul to Israel. Now she is married to her Israeli coach, Dan Salpeter, and the couple has a six-months-old baby named Roy.

“I am very proud to represent Israel and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters.

Her personal best time of two hours and 40 minutes for the marathon is relatively slow compared with the likes of Paula Radcliffe who ran the London Marathon in 2:15:25 on April 13, 2003. But Salpeter says “a personal best in Rio very much depends on the conditions, which can change from day to day, so it’s hard to know.

“But Lonah still has tremendous potential to improve greatly over the next 10 years and even beyond.”

Chemtai is not worried about the marathon, which she says “is not hard,” but after Rio she plans to focus on track events and hopes to represent Israel in the 10 000m race at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The Israeli rhythmic gymnastics team had a great warm-up for the Olympics after winning several medals at the World Cup Final in Baku, Azerbaijan last weekend.

Their best performance was gold for the ribbons event. The judges awarded the girls 18,500 points, putting them ahead of the Russian team by just 0,15 points.

Israel also took gold for this event at the European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships earlier in July.

In addition, the team won silver in the group all-round category, which is one of the important categories in the Olympics.

Veteran gymnast Neta Rivkin won bronze during the individual ball event. Rivkin will be the Israeli flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. This will be her third games as she competed in both London and Beijing.

“My ambition is to win an Olympic medal. All my efforts are currently focused on doing my absolute utmost to do the very best at the Olympics,” said Rivkin.

From 1992 to 2008 Israeli athletes have one medals in every Olympic, and then, at the London 2012 Games, Israel’s team came home empty-handed, so hopes are naturally high for medals this time.

The US is sending a team off 555 athletes and there are high hopes for seven Jewish participants.

Topping the field is gymnast Aly Raisman who was the toast of the Games in London. She won a floor gymnastics gold medal while performing to Hava Nagila.

She didn’t stop there. Raisman noted the 40th anniversary of the massacre of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Games to reporters after her performance, an event the IOC declined to recognise.

Rugby players Zack Test and Nate Ebner were mentioned in a previous article but suffice to say Ebner will now go down in history as the first-ever NFL player to make a US Olympic team.

Swimmer Anthony Ervin was born to an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and a father with both African-American and Native American heritage.

After winning gold in the 50m freestyle at the 2000 Olympics at age 19, Ervin felt burned out. He quit swimming in 2003 and spent his 20s experimenting with drugs, playing guitar and teaching the sport in Brooklyn.

He nearly committed suicide by overdosing on the medication he takes for his Tourette Syndrome. In an even more symbolic split from swimming, Ervin auctioned off his gold medal for $17 000 (around R250 000) and donated the money to the Tsunami Relief Fund.

Remarkably he made a comeback at the 2012 Olympics, placing fifth in the 50m freestyle. He called his latest Olympic trials his best ever and qualified for both the 50m freestyle and the 4×100m freestyle relay in Rio.

Not many athletes stay in peak shape long enough to participate in an Olympics at 39, but Merrill Moses, a water polo veteran of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics - and now a member of the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame - will do just that when he celebrates his birthday in the middle of the Rio Games.

Moses will likely be in the starting line-up for his third straight Olympics.

Eli Dershwitz 20, is studying at Harvard. He is one of two sabre fencers in the US team. His performance at the Fencing World Cup in February, helped the US team gain the No 1 world ranking. He is considered a serious medal contender.

Monica Rokhman, 19, is the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants and is a rising star in rhythmic gymnastics.



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