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#TeamMaccabiSA in the swim in Budapest

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On Tuesday night, on a balmy evening in Budapest’s Nándor Hidegkuti Stadium, the 15th edition of the European Maccabi Games (EMG) swung into action with the traditional opening ceremony.
by LUKE ALFRED | Aug 01, 2019

Bearing the flag for #TeamMaccabiSA was Adam Lipschitz, a gifted 25-year-old middle-distance athlete from Durban. “I’ll be proudly waving our flag during the walk past,” said the former Glenwood High schoolboy before he led out the delegation of just less than 90 athletes, medical staff, and officials.

Hopes for Lipschitz’s medal-grabbing abilities are high after his double-gold victories in the half-marathon and 5 000m of the Maccabiah of two years ago. A former member of the South African team at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona in 2012, he will swap his flag for running shoes on Saturday night when he takes part in the EMG half-marathon, part of the Budapest Night Race. “It’s always great to run through a new city, and be part of a night-race atmosphere,” he says.

The Durbanite is not the only one who has a handy habit of harvesting Maccabi medals in a South African team expected to do well in rugby, futsal, and swimming. Part of the 12-strong swimming team, for instance, is the father and daughter duo Clifford and Kim Garrun.

The Garruns, who are competing in their second EMG after making their debut in Berlin in 2015, managed a remarkable haul of eight all told four years ago – five golds and three silvers – and are hoping to make similarly large ripples in the EMG pool this time.

Located on Margaret Island on the River Danube, between the suburbs of Buda and Pest, the swimming events will be taking place at the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Centre, the home of Hungarian swimming, and once the training venue of such legendary Hungarian swimmers like Krisztina Egerszegi and Károly Güttler.

By a strange quirk of fate, South Africa’s swimmers in Budapest are coached by Csanad Feldhausz, a Hungarian, who will be making a pilgrimage of sorts back to Budapest. He grew up there, and competed for Hungary before emigrating to South Africa.

He knows the swimming centre as if it were a room in his own house.

Feldhausz, who now lives in Cape Town, first started coaching at Herzlia, and from there was given an opportunity to coach the junior Maccabi squad of two years ago. The Games of 2017 was an eye-opener, which he describes “as an once-in-a-lifetime experience”.

Six of the 2017 juniors – including the highly-regarded Daniella Solkow, Jaden Harris, and Benji Sack – will be swimming in Hungary over the coming days. “I’m looking forward to taking them [the Maccabi swimmers] back to my home country,” said Feldhausz. “I will be showing them my origins and my culture. Hungary is a water nation, a small nation with big pride. I believe the experience of coming to Budapest will change our Maccabi swimmers’ way of thinking.”

With his pedigree in Hungarian swimming culture, Feldhausz pushed his Maccabi swimmers hard in the months before the EMG, with eight swimming sessions and two gym sessions per week. The swimmers were required to wake at 04:30 four times a week for training before school, followed by four two-hour sessions per week afterwards.

A rigorous training regime was supplemented by training camps in Stellenbosch and Hermanus, with time in the pool followed by outreach activities, motivational talks, and team bonding over Shabbat. “I’ve heard many times that Jewish people aren’t sporty, but I don’t accept it,” said Feldhausz. “History has shown that they aren’t only great intellectually, they can also go to the top in sport. If we don’t set limits on these Maccabi kids, and challenge them with new goals, I believe they can really surprise us.”

The local Maccabi community is thrilled to have a coach with Feldhausz’s institutional knowledge in their midst, and there is palpable expectation in the air ahead of the week. The swimming family are warmly appreciative of Feldhausz’s efforts, but they’re also keeping an interested eye on how his swimmers perform. “We’d like to express our deep gratitude to Csanad for taking Maccabi swimming to the next level,” said Ronen Cohen, the chairperson of Maccabi Western Province.

The jovial Cohen – otherwise known as “the-man-of-many-hats” – is not only an administrator, but a futsal coach and player. The Maccabi futsal structures in South Africa have improved markedly in the past four or five years, and the futsal contingent in Budapest makes up about half of #TeamMaccabiSA, with teams being fielded in the under-16, under-18, Open and Masters categories.

At the EMG in Berlin four years ago, the futsal players came back with two bronze medals. The Opens won their bronze medal match after an Israeli forfeiture due to injuries, while the Masters won their bronze medal match 3-1 against Denmark after losing to Turkey in the semi-final.

Four years later, and both the Masters and Open teams remain fundamentally intact. Cohen is hoping that with the older players paving the way in Berlin, the under-16s and under-18s can go big in Budapest this time round, as they open their tournament with matches against Scotland and Italy respectively.

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