Rabbi seeks royalties for Japanese Olympic gymnast’s ‘immodest’ use of his melody


A Jerusalem rabbi said he would seek royalties from Japan’s delegation to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for its allegedly unauthorized use of a melody he composed.

Rabbi Baruch Hayat, according to the Shirunt website of Israeli songs, composed the melody to the popular song “Kol Ha’Olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” to words attributed to the late founder of the Breslover Hasidic movement, Rabbi Nachman.

A recording of the melody, played by a klezmer band, featured in the performance of Sae Miyakawa, a 16-year-old Japanese gymnast in the Rio Olympics, that ended on August 22.

But in an interview published Thursday by Ynet, Hayat said that the gymnast never asked his permission to use the song, which he added he never would have granted because he considers her performance immodest and incompatible with the values promoted by the 18th-century rabbi who is believed to have been the author of the lyrics.

“It’s a disgrace,” the 70-year-old rabbi told Ynet, adding he will “fight for what he is owed” in terms of royalties. “This was not exactly the intention of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, to have his words play at the Olympics,” he said of the routine, which featured only the melody of the song. “And it’s not very modest.”

As a head of a yeshiva, a religious seminary, he said, he finds the use of his melody “inappropriate. Clearly, this is a matter of sanctity that cannot be used for just anything. It is known in Hasidic circles that melody also has sanctity.”

The lyrics of the song translate as, “The world is a narrow bridge;
the important thing is not to be afraid.”

 

 

Raisman wins silver, Biles wins record-equalling fourth gold


Simone Biles showed off her sassy moves and explosive tumbles on the floor exercise to win a record-equalling fourth gold at the Olympics on Tuesday.

A day after a wobbly performance on the balance beam ended the American's hopes of leaving Rio with a record haul of five golds for a female gymnast, she was back on form to capture the floor title with 15.966 points.

Aly Raisman completed a one-two for the United States by earning 15.500, while Briton Amy Tinkler burst into tears after a crowd-pleasing floor display to Kenny G's version of the song “Oh, Pretty Woman” earned her the bronze.

However, there was no doubting who was the star of the show.

A sultry routine full of hip-swinging moves to samba music had the Brazilian crowd on their feet as she flew high into the air to execute her trademark element, a soaring double layout with half-twist at the end.

Cries of “oohs” and “aahs” accompanied each of her complex tumbling passes, she drew gasps of admiration as she balanced her entire body weight on her right toes while spinning around twice and had the audience roaring their approval as she bounced her bottom off the floor to strike her final pose.

The ear-to-ear grin, which had disappeared on Monday after she ended up with bronze on the beam, was back on show again and Biles gave the crowd a thumbs up as she waited for her score.

The mark that did flash up not only earned her a fifth medal at her debut Games, it was also the highest score of her four floor performances over the past 10 days.

The 19-year-old team, all around, vault and floor exercise champion became the first woman in 32 years, and fifth overall, to win four golds at a single Games.

The Soviet Union's Larisa Latynina (Melbourne 1956), Hungary's Agnes Keleti (Melbourne 1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (Mexico City 1968) and Romania's Ecaterina Szabo (Los Angeles 1984) were the only other women to have four golds at a single Games.

Aly Raisman earns spot in individual all-around finals in Rio


Jewish-American woman’s gymnast Aly Raisman earned a spot in the individual all-around competition at the Olympics in Rio.

Raisman took the second spot for the American women ahead of all-around defending gold medalist Gabby Douglas and behind three-time world all-around champion Simone Biles.

The American women’s gymnastics team came in first place in the qualifying for the team finals with a score of  185.238 points, ahead of second place China with a score of 175.279  and third place Russia with 174.620. The finals will take place on Tuesday.

Raisman also will compete in the individual competition in the floor exercise. Raisman won a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the floor competition, performing a routine to “Hava Nagila.”

Raisman, 22, is the U.S. women gymnasts’ team captain, and is nicknamed “Grandma” by her teammates.

Aly Raisman earns spot on US Olympic women’s gymnastics team


Jewish-American Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman has been named again to the U.S. women’s Olympics gymnastics team.

Raisman finished third in the Olympic Trials that finished Sunday night in San Jose, California, to capture a spot on the squad that will compete this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In 2012, she earned two gold medals at the London Olympics: for floor exercise and as part of the team competition.

This year’s team is being touted as the most racially diverse in U.S. history. It includes two African-American gymnasts, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles; a Latina, Laurie Hernandez; Raisman and Madison Kocian.

Raisman posted a photo of the team on her Twitter feed.

At 22, Raisman is the oldest member of the team, which reportedly has earned her the nickname “Grandma.” Raisman and Douglas were both members of the team that won gold in London.

Following the London Olympics, Raisman took time off from competitive gymnastics to take advantage of her newfound fame, performing on tour with her teammates, competing on “Dancing With The Stars” and being a special guest at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, the global Jewish sporting event.

Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman has her eye on Rio 2016


Once the music started playing — not the “Hava Nagila” tune that made her the Jewish poster child of the London Games, but something equally folksy — Aly Raisman tumbled right out of bounds. On her first bit of gymnastics at her comeback World Championships here last month, she had quickly incurred a major setback.

This was certainly not how the 21-year-old defending Olympic champion on floor exercise saw the start of her first World Championships in over four years. The competition, after all, comes less than a year before the Olympic Games in Rio, where she hopes to compete, and at a time when she faces her stiffest competition yet — from her U.S. teammate and two-time world champion Simone Biles.

After winning two gold medals in London, including one with the U.S. team, Raisman, then 18, took time off from gymnastics to enjoy opportunities that had come her way — performing on tour with her teammates, competing on “Dancing With The Stars,” being a special guest at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel, the global Jewish sporting event.

It was a departure for Raisman, who while training is careful about preserving her energy.

“There will be in the times in the summer we’ll go to the Cape, and she’ll be like, ‘It’s going to be too exhausting driving to the Cape. It’s too much. I’m just going to stay home,’” said her mother, Lynn, who raised Raisman in a Reform Jewish home in Needham, Massachusetts. “That year off, everything that came her way she could say ‘yes’ to because she wasn’t training.”

According to Lynn Raisman, a mother of four, her eldest child has always possessed this focus and intensity, even as a young girl.

“I look back at some of those times when we didn’t do things as a family and she stayed home, like, you were so young, you were such a low level. … She just always was like that, very devoted, very regimented with the training,” Lynn said.

According to her mother, Raisman, despite all the fun she was having, decided that she would come back very early into her year off.

“Initially, two weeks later [after the Olympics], she was like, ‘Yeah, I’m done,’” Lynn recalled. But then a couple months later, she told her mother, ‘I want to come back.’”

Raisman took it slow.

Though she resumed training in the fall of 2013, just over a year after her Olympic performances, she didn’t start competing again until this spring, at a friendly meet in Jesolo, Italy, where she won the bronze medal behind two of her U.S. teammates. She won bronze again in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August.

But these are not the medals she’s after in her comeback. Raisman is chasing the one that got away — a podium position in the Olympics all-around competition, after she was bumped to fourth place in 2012. She thinks about that missing medal “all the time,” Raisman said, and how that Olympic disappointment is motivating her to try to make her second Olympic team. That’s no mean feat in the U.S., which has such a deep bench it could send more than one medal-worthy team to Rio.

Perhaps Raisman simply wanted it too badly in Glasgow. After her disappointing floor exercise, her afternoon went further downhill. There was a botched landing on vault. On the bars, she peeled off on a release move. She appeared to be stunned momentarily as she picked herself up off the mat and remounted the event to finish her routine.

“When you fall at a meet, you just kind of black out,” Raisman said. “It’s the worst feeling. It’s almost traumatizing. I can’t even explain. It’s like the worst feeling in the world.”

Worse still were the results: She did not qualify to make the all-around finals.

But in the team finals in Glasgow, with no individual medal opportunities on the line, Raisman redeemed herself. On beam, the nerves were gone; she moved quickly and aggressively. And on floor, she managed to contain her power and stayed in bounds, helping the U.S. to a five-point victory over China and Great Britain. Raisman and her teammates celebrated on the sidelines, hands clasped and raised in victory after Biles’ floor score was posted. It was a similar scene to the one that played out in London, when the five members of the Olympic team waited for the final mark to make their victory official.

For Raisman, the hardest part of her gymnastics comeback seems to be learning how to control the nervous energy.

“I was just a little too hyper,” Raisman explained.

Physically, despite no longer being a teen, Raisman says she has been able to recoup every skill she had in London. She’s even added new elements to her repertoire.

“I almost feel like I’m stronger than I was last time,” she said.

Israeli teen rhythmic gymnasts visit L.A.


Standing straight, arms behind their backs, military style, the two young rhythmic gymnasts answered questions monotonously, with as few words as possible — disciplined, like the routines they were about to perform.

In Los Angeles for the annual L.A. Lights Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament of Champions last month, 14-year-olds Sheli Sapir, Stefani Ivanzov and their coach, Svetlana Jhugarev, were representing the Israeli Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation-Maccabi Club.

Looking like innocent teenagers, yet acting like stern, well-trained athletes, the two Israeli performers, both dressed in their gymnast outfits, took a break from their warm-ups to answer some questions.

But neither had much to say, only that they have both been at this since they were about 4 years old. Instead, they did their showing off on the floor in competition during the Jan. 23-26 tournament hosted in Culver City by the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics (LASG).

In one pose that looked particularly uncomfortable — for people of normal flexibility, at least — Sapir stood on one foot and leaned forward, touching both hands to the ground while her other leg extended up in the air at a 180-degree angle to the first. Meanwhile, she somehow managed to cradle a golden ball between her airborne foot and ankle.

Unlike artistic gymnastics — which emphasizes strength, balance and agility using apparatuses such as the vault and balance beam — rhythmic gymnastics primarily involves grace, dance and flexibility, and is always choreographed with music. Competitors use clubs, hoops, balls, ribbons and ropes.

During the event with clubs, competitors would toss the clubs in the air, perform a few graceful spins and jumps, then attempt to land cleanly while catching the falling clubs. Drops were common, but Sapir and Ivanzov snatched everything that went airborne.

Held at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, the tournament attracted top-notch talent from around the world, particularly Eastern Europe. Russian filled the air on Jan. 26, as many of the athletes and coaches were from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. 

Headed by Alla Svirsky, LASG’s executive director, and her daughter, its general manager, L.A. Lights is just the most recent example of the mother-daughter duo’s lifelong push to spread rhythmic gymnastics.

In 1984, when the sport first became an official Olympic competition, Svirsky led the American squad in the Los Angeles games. In July 2013, Berenson was the coach for the American team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, the first time the United States competed in rhythmic gymnastics there in more than a decade. Israel sending its own delegation to Los Angeles was, Berenson said, their way of saying thank you.

“They came in good will from the U.S. attending their event,” she said.

Performing separately, Sapir and Ivanzov each had three routines — one with a golden ball, the second with clubs and the third with a ribbon. Overall, Sapir placed eighth out of 14 in the Level 10 junior group, and Ivanzov placed ninth out of 14. The girls’ high score came when Sapir placed fourth out of 11 in the hoop competition.

Asked whether she thinks the two young Israelis have a chance at eventually competing on an even bigger stage in the years to come, Berenson said, “I know that her [Jhugarev’s] athletes are going to have a very good chance at World and Olympic Games.”

Jewish glory, frustration mark London Games


The London Olympics may have “lit up the world,” as organizing committee head Sebastian Coe put it, but for Jews the 2 1/2 weeks offered healthy doses of frustration and glory.

On the plus side, new medalists such as America’s Aly Raisman gained the spotlight with her grace, which included a floor routine to “Hava Nagila” en route to a U.S. women’s team gold in gymnastics. She followed that with an individual gold for floor exercise and a bronze on the balance beam.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Jo Aleh brought home a gold for Kiwi fans in the women’s 470 regatta and Australian kayaker Jessica Fox won a silver medal in the slalom K1. They joined in their glory with previous medalists such as U.S. swimmer Jason Lezak, who helped his relay team win a silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle in what was likely the last of his four Olympics.

Yet the game’s opening ceremony ended hopes that the International Olympic Committee would officially recognize with a moment of silence the 11 Israeli athletes murdered 40 years ago at the Munich Games by Palestinian terrorists. An international campaign for a moment of silence had the support of President Obama and numerous other world leaders.

And Israel’s athletes—for the first time in 24 years—went home without a single medal, which has prompted conversation about the country’s lack of commitment to Olympics excellence. Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team made it to the finals, but on Sunday it finished last among the eight teams in the all-around group competition.

Two Israeli citizens, however, are coming home with some Olympic glory. David Blatt, an American-Israeli, coached Russia’s bronze-winning men’s basketball team and Aleh will soon make a family visit to the Jewish state.

Blatt, the coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team, has helped rebuild the Russian national squad since being brought in as head coach in 2006, Sports Illustrated reported. He took the team to a 2007 European Championship.

He played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the Maccabiah Games, Blatt played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

The disappointment in Israel over the lack of a national delegation medal may be behind what Yuli Edelstein, minister of Diaspora affairs, told Raisman last week as she accepted his invitation for the Raisman family to be his guests in Israel.

“Making your first visit to Israel is not only important because it is the homeland of the Jewish people, but also because you can contribute from your experience to the young generation of Israeli athletes,” Edelstein said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Beating her to the Jewish state, however, will be Aleh. After a parade back home to celebrate New Zealand’s success at the London Games, she reportedly is heading to Israel for the bat mitzvah of her half-sister.

The greatest disappointment of the Games for many Jews, however, was the failure of the international campaign to have the Munich 11 remembered. It included a petition launched by the Rockland JCC in suburban New York that garnered nearly 111,000 names, a private meeting with two Munich 11 widows and IOC President Jacques Rogge, and the backing of President Obama and political leaders from Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

One widow of the Munich 11 had biting words for Rogge when he attended the London Jewish community’s memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches.

“Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who died in the attack. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You discriminate against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict was felt when the Lebanese judo team refused to even practice in a gymnasium next to the Israelis. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Also, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the Games, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. The report speculated that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

Aly Raisman, after protest, wins bronze on balance beam


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result.

Raisman had finished fourth behind Catalina Ponor of Romania, who fell off the beam in the finals on Tuesday.  Following the Americans’ protest, the rescoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tie-breaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished in seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman, 18, won the floor exercise while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila.”

[For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics]

She will compete later Tuesday in the individual floor exercise event.

Also Tuesday, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Aly Raisman takes a gold and bronze


Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman won a gold medal in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam at the London Olympics.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., took the gold on Aug. 6 with a score of 15.6 to edge Catalina Ponor of Romania and Aliya Mustafina of Russia, the silver and bronze medalists.

Earlier in the day, Raisman won the bronze on the balance beam after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. She had finished fourth behind Ponor, who fell off the beam in the finals. After the Americans’ protest, the re-scoring put the two gymnasts in a tie. Under the tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the bronze with a higher execution score. She had lost a bronze in the all-around on the same tiebreaker.

China took the gold and silver in the event. American Gabby Douglas, who won the all-around, also fell off the apparatus and finished seventh among the eight competitors.

Raisman had helped Team USA take the women’s team gold — the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raisman won the floor exercise in the team competition while performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagilah.”

Also on Aug. 7, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits had problems in the final and finished in sixth place after entering the medal race in second. She was ninth in the medal round.

Team Israel likely will go home without any medals for the first time since the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Korzits, 28, won world windsurfing titles in 2011 and 2012. She did not qualify to represent Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and considered retiring.

The following year she suffered a near-fatal surfing accident while working on the Professional Windsurfers Association’s tour in Hawaii. She was told by doctors that she would never surf again but she rededicated herself to the sport.

Raisman, Down Under athletes soar among Jewish Olympians


Slideshow highlighting Aly Raisman‘s Olympics at bottom

U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman and athletes from Down Under were the story for Jewish sports fans at the London Olympics.

Raisman, who performs her floor routines to the melody of “Hava Nagilah,” won an individual gold medal on Tuesday in the floor exercise as well as a bronze on the balance beam after helping the U.S. women’s team take the gold last week.

Her bronze came after the U.S. lodged a protest against the original result. Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., had finished fourth, but the judges agreed to a rescoring, putting her in a tie with Romania’s Catalina Ponor. Under a tie-breaking procedure, Raisman took the medal with a higher execution score. Raisman defeated Ponor again in the floor exercise final.

Meanwhile, there was something good in the water for Jewish athletes from Down Under.

[Aly Raisman’s results: team / all-around / balance beam / floor exercise]

Nathan Cohen, who is Jewish, and his partner Joseph Sullivan won the men’s double sculls on Aug. 2 to give New Zealand its first gold medal of the London Olympics.  They rallied in the last 200 meters to overtake Italy’s Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti with a time of 6 minutes, 31.67 seconds—1.13 seconds ahead of the Italians.

Australian kayaker Jessica Fox, 18, won a silver medal in the K-1 kayak slalom final. Her first Olympic medal followed a family tradition: Her mother, Myriam Jerusalmi Fox, won a bronze in the same race for France at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Her British father, Richard, finished fourth in the same event at the 1992 Olympics and was appointed coach of the Australian kayak team before the 2000 Sydney Games.

At midweek, New Zealand sailor Jo Aleh was in good position to win her first Olympic medal as her event headed into its final stretch. Aleh, whose parents, Shuki and Daniella, lived in Israel before moving to Auckland, and teammate Olivia Powrie are in first after eight of 10 races in the 470 event.

Two rounds remain—both on Wednesday—followed by a medal race, scheduled for Friday.

Aleh’s father has flown in from Israel to watch the final rounds, while her mother has arrived from New Zealand. Aleh has two half-siblings who both live in Israel, according to a report in The Forward. After the Olympics, the family is reportedly traveling there for her half-sister’s bat mitzvah celebration.

Australian sprinter Steven Solomon’s bid for a medal ended when he ran out of steam in the 400-meter final. Solomon trailed the pack on Monday night, finishing eighth in 45.14 seconds—his second fastest time and just 0.17 seconds off his landmark semifinal time.

The 19-year-old runner, who played soccer at the 2009 Maccabiah before taking up sprinting, heaped praise on his Jewish Ukrainian coach, 78-year-old Fira Dvoskina, who could not travel to London but was coaching him via Skype.

Israeli athletes were not faring well and, for the first time since 1988, seemed likely to return home without a medal.

Windsurfer Lee Korzits, Israel’s likely last hope for a medal, finished the medal race in ninth place, dropping from second place to sixth in the overall rankings. Shahar Tzuberi, the bronze medalist from Beijing, did not qualify for the medal event.

Also, Israeli judoka Arik Zeevi, who predicted he would win a medal at the London Olympics, lost his opening match. Dmitri Peters of Germany put Zeevi in a headlock in their 100 kg. match on Aug. 2, forcing the 35-year-old Israeli to tap out after 43 seconds, the Times of Israel reported. He had tears in his eyes as he left the mat.

Female judoka Alice Schlessinger, another Israeli medal hope, was eliminated early as well.

On Sunday, Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov finished sixth in the floor exercise finals. Shatilov, 25, had finished 12th last week in the individual all-around final.

In an odd incident, Israeli sprinter Donald Sanford was forced to borrow running shoes, saying his had been stolen and that he did not have the opportunity to warm up. He argued unsuccessfully with the judges for more time and failed to advance out of the first round in the 400 meters, though he did run his personal best time of the season.

Meanwhile, French Olympic swimmer Fabien Gilot grabbed some attention with the Hebrew tattoo on his left arm that he said is a tribute to his late grandmother’s husband, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. Gilot, who is not Jewish, said the tattoo is dedicated to his family and honors Max Goldschmidt, who has been a major influence in his life, Ynet reported. The tattoo says, “I’m nothing without them.”

Gilot revealed the tattoo, which is on the inside of his left arm, after exiting the pool following his team’s gold medal-winning performance in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

Outside the competition, there was news as well. German Olympic rower Nadja Drygalla left the Olympic Village following claims that her boyfriend is a member of an extremist political party inspired by the Nazis. She had already finished competing at the Games as part of the women’s rowing eight team and reportedly left of her own accord after a 90-minute conversation with German officials.

Media reports said her boyfriend was a leading member of a regional National Socialist group, the Rostock National Socialists, and had worked in a state election for the far-right National Democratic Party. Germany’s intelligence agency describes the NDP as racist, anti-Semitic and inspired by the Nazis.

For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics.

Aly Raisman loses bronze in tie-breaker, Gabby Douglas wins gold


Smiling 16-year-old Gabby Douglas took the Olympic Games by storm on Thursday when she won the all-around gold medal ahead of Russian Victoria Komova.

Komova was reduced to tears for the second time in three days when American Douglas pipped her to the title by 0.259 of a point after producing the day’s best performances on the vault and the beam.

Aliya Mustafina, who with Komova was disappointed to take team silver behind the Americans on Tuesday, clung on for bronze despite a fall from the beam. She and Douglas’s compatriot Aly Raisman finished with the same total but the Russian won the medal on the tiebreak rule.

Douglas, dubbed the “Flying Squirrel” for the shape she produces on the bars, was watched from the stands by team mate and world champion Jordyn Wieber, who had come into the Games touted as the favorite for Thursday’s honors but failed to qualify for the final.

[For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/olympics]

Rules and regulations seem to be plaguing the Americans here. Wieber finished fourth in qualifying for the all-around but missed the cut since each nation is allowed only two women in the final. As Douglas and Raisman ranked above her in the preliminaries, Wieber was demoted to the role of spectator at the North Greenwich Arena on Thursday.

Raisman lost out on bronze despite finishing off with the second-best floor routine of the evening under the rule that separates equally-placed contestants by toting up the totals of their three best apparatus.

Douglas, though, was beyond the reach of such concerns, leading from the first of the four rotations when she was the opener on the vault.

A slight hop sideways on landing could have cost her but all her rivals fluffed their landings, with Komova stumbling sideways right off the mat.

MISSED CHANCE

Raisman banged her foot on one of the asymmetric bars in the second routine and began to look concerned. Douglas, for all her prowess on the apparatus, was beaten by the two Russians, with Mustafina scoring a high 16.100, but the American stayed in the lead.

With Douglas and the 17-year-old Komova duelling for the gold, their team mates were left to fight for bronze and Mustafina looked to have thrown away her chances when she came off the beam attempting to complete a twisting somersault.

Her score was a low 13.633 and Raisman took to the narrow piece of wood knowing she could take advantage. Her hopes shrivelled, though, when she only just saved herself from overbalancing and then wobbled precariously on a spin and she dropped to fifth place.

Though she recovered with 15.133 on the floor, where she won a world bronze medal last October, it was not enough to put her ahead of 2010 world all-around champion Mustafina.

Komova was last on the floor and Raisman stood with her arm around Douglas as they waited for the giant scoreboard, high above them, to show their fate. Seconds later, only Douglas was celebrating.

As Raisman bit her lip and Komova slumped in a chair and covered her face with both hands, Douglas climbed on to the dais by the vault run-up and waved to the wildly cheering and flag-waving American fans.

Her victory was another feather in the cap of Chinese-born coach Liang Chow who coached another American, Shawn Johnson, to all-around silver and beam gold at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

Reporting by Clare Fallon; Editing by Pritha Sarkar

Video of American gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral


[UPDATE: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]

A clip from NBC showing Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents’ reaction to her uneven bar routine has garnered more than 25,000 hits on YouTube.

The clip shows Raisman’s mother and father commenting on Raisman’s routine from the stands. Her mother, Lynn, says, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and “Come on, come on” while shifting in her seat, and her father, Rick, remains silent until yelling “Stick it, please, stick it!” at the end of Raisman’s routine.

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., is Jewish and has been honored by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Her performance in the qualifying round in the London Games earned her a spot in the all-around finals on Tuesday.

Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold [VIDEO]


Aly Raisman, a Jewish American, won the floor exercise in helping the U.S. women’s team to the gold medal in the gymnastics competition at the London Olympics.

The Americans on Tuesday won their first team gold medal in women’s gymnastics since the Atlanta Games in 1996,  finishing with 183.596 points to defeat Russia (178.530) and Romania (176.414).

Raisman, 18, of Needham, Mass., scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

[Related: Video of American gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she also will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Aly Raisman, Jason Lezak shine for Team USA


While both took to the podiums in London this week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Aly Raisman’s Olympic star was rising as 36-year-old swimmer Jason Lezak’s appeared to be setting.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., helped Team USA take the women’s team gold on Tuesday—the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Also, Raisman is favored to win the all-around individual competition on Thursday, as well as the floor exercise on Aug. 7, when she will be competing in the balance beam final. She and Gabby Douglas are representing the U.S. in the individual finals.

Lezak, a four-time gold medalist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-meter freestyle swimming finals. The team went on to finish second, receiving a silver medal—Lezak’s eighth medal overall in four Olympics. Lezak did not compete in the finals.

[Related: Aly Raisman leads U.S. to gymnastics team gold]
[Related: Video of Aly Raisman’s parents goes viral]

Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.

On Tuesday, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing. Lee Korzits was in second place in the women’s eight-day long RS:X event while Shahar Tzuberi was in 10th in the men’s competition.

The Israeli judo team was expected to do well after winning four medals in recent European matches, but judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early this week.

Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practice next to the Israeli team. The Lebanese even erected a makeshift barrier to split their gym into two halves, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition last week, citing “critical digestive system infection,” according to the Washington Post. That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.

At the Games, the American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-meter relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in 3 minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).

The French turned the tide on the Americans from four years ago in Beijing, when Lezak overtook the French world record-holder Alain Bernard in the final 25 meters despite being nearly a full body length behind him in the stretch. It was the fastest 100-meter freestyle split in history by nearly six-tenths of a second, and earned victory for the U.S. and kept alive Michael Phelps’ drive for a record-setting eight gold medals.

Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay on Sunday night, had helped his teammates Lochte and Phelps qualify in the morning preliminaries.

“The coaches had a tough decision to make with so many talented 100 freestylers and then the two best all-around swimmers in the world,” Lezak told FOXSports.com late Sunday via email. “Of course, I would have liked to be a part of the final. If you asked any of us who swam prelims they would have answered it the same.”

While he has not specifically said he would return for another Summer Games, Lezak, who was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame in 2010, is the oldest member of the U.S. men’s swim team.

“As the body gets older, sometimes the mind wants to go hard for a lot longer. But I’ve learned over the course of the last several years how many laps is enough, how many is too much,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Since his historic comeback at the Beijing Olympics, Lezak has participated in Israel’s Maccabiah Games, winning four gold medals last summer, and taught swimming clinics for neighborhood kids at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Southern California. He has two children and is an active member of Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, Calif.

“It’s something for me to get in touch more with Jewish kids and hopefully inspire them,” he said in 2009. “I really didn’t have anyone like that growing up.”

Raisman scored 15.300 in the floor exercise to win the event, performing her routine to a string-heavy version of “Hava Nagila” as she did on Sunday. Raisman also had performed to “Hava Nagila” when she gained a berth on the U.S. team last year.

She is trained by Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, the Romanian couple who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s. The coaches and her mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches, they told JTA last year.

She is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there,” Raisman told JTA last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

Raisman is a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York.

Other notable performances of Jewish athletes included U.S. fencer Timothy Morhouse, who lost to Italy’s Diego Occhiuzzi in the quarterfinals.

In tennis, Israel’s Shahar Peer was eliminated by Russia’s Maria Sharapova, one of the top-ranked players in the world. Peer is winless against Sharapova in seven matches.

In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. He also qualified for Wednesday’s all-around individual final after finishing 12th overall.

In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. team finished first in the preliminaries and qualified for the finals.


For more Olympics coverage, visit jewishjournal.com/Olympics.


Hoop it up: Israeli rhythmic gymnast medals at worlds


Neta Rivkin with a bronze became the first Israeli to win a medal in international rhythmic gymnastics competition.

Rivkin, 20, won a historic medal for Israel in rhythmic gymnastics at the World Championships in Montepelier, France. Her bronze medal, which she won for her Spanish-style hoop routine during the apparatus finals, was the first ever won by an Israeli rhythmic gymnast at a worlds or Olympics. She also placed sixth in the ball finals.

The gymnast, who ranked just behind the current Olympic champion Evgenia Kanaeva and Daria Kondoakova, both of Russia, was obviously elated.

“There are no words to describe what I’m feeling now,” Rivkin said after the medal ceremony. “Words cannot describe my joy.”

Rivkin is attempting to gain a spot representing Israel in the 2012 Olympics in London. She already competed at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Rivkin’s is only the second medal for Israeli gymnastics, both artistic and rhythmic, in world championship competition. In 2009, Alexander Shatilov won the bronze medal on the floor exercise.

This is Rivkin’s hoop routine in the qualification round of competition.

Top gymnast gives ‘Hava Nagila’ a perfect 10


Places you expect to hear “Hava Nagila”: weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, every pop culture depiction of traditional Jews and … gymnastics competitions?

In fact, the answer is all of the above.

Alexandra Raisman, 17, one of the top elite gymnasts in the United States and a member of the 2010 U.S. World Championships team that took the silver medal last year in Rotterdam, will perform her floor exercise routine this weekend to a string-heavy version of the classic Chasidic niggun, or wordless melody. And if she succeeds in making it to London for the Olympic Games in 2012, she plans to perform the routine on the sport’s biggest stage.

Raisman, of Needham, Mass., is trained by the Romanian couple, Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan, who coached the Israeli national team in the early 1990s and also is training world vault champion Alicia Sacramone. The coaches and Raisman’s mother selected “Hava Nagila” after several exhaustive late-night online searches.

Raisman, a recipient of the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award given out by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in New York, says she is proud to be using the Jewish song “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there.”

Even more important to Raisman than the tune’s Jewish connotations, however, is the quality it shares with similar folk tunes—it inspires audience participation.

“I like how the crowd can clap to it,” she says.

It is this characteristic that has likely inspired other international elites, such as the 1996 Olympic champion Lilia Podkopayeva and the 2008 victor on floor exercise, Sandra Izbasa, to use “Hava Nagila” in their floor routines.

“It implicitly invites the crowd into the performance,” says James Loeffler, who teaches Jewish and European history at the University of Virginia and is the author of the “The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire.” He adds, “It almost takes the focus off the gymnast as a solo performer.”

That probably comes as a relief to Raisman, who is known for her powerful tumbling and high degree of difficulty, but has admitted to not being as comfortable with the artistic aspects of the sport.

“I’m not as good a dancer,” she concedes.

Loeffler isn’t surprised that the song has been favored by gymnasts. What both the sport of gymnastics and the song have in common is kitsch.

Gymnastics, like its sister sport figure skating, is relatively free of irony. While the acrobatics may be cutting edge, everything else seems stuck in the over-the-top 1980s, a world where scrunchies, eye glitter and iridescent spandex were popular.

In the gymnastics-verse, those things are still commonplace.

“In gymnastics,” Loeffler says, “you still have a certain appeal of things that in other places might seem sort of silly or even cheesy.”

This works well with a song like “Hava Nagila.”

“It’s a song, depending on how you play it, that can be very powerful and spiritual, or it can be glitzy, bombastic and over the top,” he says, noting that many klezmer bands refuse to play the song, which they consider old fashioned and outmoded. The bands that do play it do so to parody themselves.

“Hava Nagila” wasn’t always considered a cliche of traditional Judaism. The song originated as a niggun among the Sadigorer Chasidim in what is now Ukraine and brought to Palestine in the late 19th century, where Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, the father of Jewish musicology, gave the tune its now famously happy lyrics.

Since then the song has become an enduring shorthand for Jewish in Hollywood films and other pop culture venues. It has received similar treatment in Eastern Europe and Russia, where “it fits into a tradition of kitschy popular style folk songs” and is one of three things people in the region know about Jews, Loeffler says.

“They know about Israel, they know about the Holocaust and they know about ‘Hava Nagila,’ ” he says.

The international familiarity with the song bodes well for Raisman. Should she make it to London in 2012, it’s a safe bet everyone will be clapping along.

(Watch the video: http://blogs.jta.org/telegraph/article/2011/08/16/3088997/gymnastics-hava-nagila-the-best-of”>Gymnastics & ‘Hava Nagila’ … the best of.)

Israeli women gymnasts train long and hard for Beijing games


NETANYA (JTA) — On one side of a cavernous gym in Netanya, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, six members of Israel’s first Olympic rhythmic gymnastics team warm up in a circle, chatting softly in a mix of Russian and Hebrew while stretching their legs in effortless splits on the mat.

Nearby, Irina Risenzon, a fellow gymnast competing in the individual category, is trying to master a leap in which her head must tilt backward to meet a bent leg.

It’s late afternoon, and the young gymnasts, ranging in age from 17 to 22, have been practicing for much of the day. In black T-shirts and black shorts, they appear to be in uniform, reinforcing a feeling of discipline and order that marks their training and routines.

“There are harder workouts and easier ones,” says Risenzon, 20, her auburn hair pulled into a bun. She sits on a wooden bench on the edge of the gym, watching the team begin its routine. The gymnasts practice about 10 hours a day.

“But you know why you are here,” she says. “For me, it’s my goal: the Olympics.”

Like every Olympian, her ultimate goal is the gold.

“That’s the dream,” Risenzon says, breaking into a smile, a marked contrast from the grimace she’s been wearing for the past two hours while trying to perfect her leaps and pivots before her hard-driving coach, Ira Vigdorchik.

Risenzon has been training with Vigdorchik since she was 9, the same year she and her family immigrated to Israel from Ukraine.

The language in the hall is predominately Russian. Six of the eight rhythmic gymnasts are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The two Israeli natives are the daughters of immigrants, including Neta Rivkin, who at 17 is the youngest member of the Israeli Olympic team.

This large contingent of rhythmic gymnasts is why the Israeli squad has nearly as many women as men this year in its 39-member delegation to the Olympics in China.

The sport combines ballet, theatrical dance and gymnastics and is divided into individual, pair and team event categories. Ropes, hoops, balls, clubs and ribbons are used in the routines.

About 3,000 girls are training in gyms across the country, according to Rachel Vigdorchik, who oversees 300 of them at the gym she runs in Holon and at another branch in Jaffa for Arab girls.

Vigdorchik, who moved to Israel in 1979, was scheduled to perform in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, her hometown, but she stayed home when the Israeli team boycotted, along with other countries, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Looking around the gym at the team members she has coached, most of them since they were little girls, Vigdorchik says they’re like family. She says this year’s Olympic Games are “closing a circle.”

Vigdorchik says she’s proud that rhythmic gymnastics, a sport brought to Israel by Russian immigrants in the early 1970s, has caught on.

“It’s very popular, but we need more government investment and more sponsors,” she says, echoing a common complaint of Israel’s sporting community.

For those who grew up in the Soviet system, where cultivating sports and athletes was a top national priority, the contrast in Israel can be jarring.

Ela Samotalov, the coach for the team event, came in 1991 from Minsk, where she helped coach the Belarus national team. She says she is still getting accustomed to Israel’s more spartan sports culture.

“There is no status to being a coach here in Israel,” she complains.

The Soviet-style training, with its strict discipline and demands, can seem off-putting to native-born Israelis, Samotalov says. This is part of what unites the Russian-born gymnasts — a shared understanding of the dedication needed to excel that comes from growing up in families versed in a more intense approach to sports.

“But the sabras are learning well; it will just take time,” Samotalov says of the Israelis. “Sports is not a miracle. It’s hard work.”

Samotalov is encouraged by the homegrown talent of one of her longtime charges, Neta, who has improved consistently at competitions this year.

“My goal is to do the best I can,” Neta says of Beijing. “It’s so special, going out there in front of that huge audience.”

Not far away, Risenzon laughs as she recalls her introduction to the sport when she was a little girl living near Kiev.

“I was considered sickly, always getting the flu,” she recalls. “So my parents were told that to strengthen my body, I should do sports, and the closest gym to our house was for rhythmic gymnastics.”

When she was 4, Risenzon’s Olympic career was nearly derailed by coaches who deemed her too pudgy to excel in the sport. Her baby fat long gone, she finished seventh last September in the World Championships.

Risenzon talks about the deep concentration she tries to maintain during her routines — tuning out the clapping crowds, the cameras and the competition. Relief and satisfaction come only after a successful routine is completed.

“Then I think about everything,” she says. “In the midst of it all, I’m focused on the next move.”

“But I love to perform,” Risenzon says, her deep-brown eyes shining as she describes her Olympic routines, which include a playful number set to Indian music and another with a samba tune.

Despite her immigrant origins, she has no identity dilemmas, she says. “I’ve felt deeply connected here,” Risenzon says, “and when I see the Israeli flag flying I get goose bumps.”