Part of gold medal ‘belongs to Israel,’ Kiwi sailor Jo Aleh says

Jo Aleh, the New Zealand Jewish Olympian who won gold in the sailing regatta, said part of her medal “belongs to Israel.”

Aleh, the New Zealand-born daughter of dual Israeli and Kiwi citizens Shuki Shukrun and Daniella Aleh, clinched gold last week in the women’s 470 sailing event with her partner Olivia “Polly” Powrie. Her parents were on hand to witness the triumph.

The new Olympic champion—whose father lives in Moshav Yinon near Kiryat Malachi and whose mother served in the Israeli army—said she was amazed and slightly bemused at the media fanfare in Israel.

“It feels great to know that there is even more people behind me and, given my parents’ background, part of my medal belongs to Israel,” she said.

Aleh’s half-sister Shefa is celebrating her bat mitzvah in two weeks. Aleh, the 2007 world champion, was scheduled to go straight to Israel, but as one of five Kiwi gold medalists she is traveling back for parades in Auckland on Wednesday and the earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch on Friday.

“I am still hoping to make it back to Israel in time for my sister’s bat mitzvah,” she said.

In New Zealand, it was after midnight Aug. 10 as many in the small Jewish community, which numbers around 7,000, celebrated a slice of their own history: Aleh is believed to be the first Kiwi Jew to win an Olympic medal.

“I was not aware of this,” Aleh said. “I guess it’s a good bonus.”

Shemi Tzur, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, said that “This is both an outstanding personal achievement and a great accomplishment for New Zealand. My colleagues at the embassy in Wellington and I followed the competition enthusiastically and we all share your joy and pride.”

37 Israeli Olympians set for London Games

A group of 37 Olympians is ready to represent Israel in the 2012 London Games, which kicked off with Friday’s Opening Ceremony.

Israel is competing in badminton, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, athletics, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, synchronized swimming, and tennis.

The only medalist from Israel at the last summer Olympics (2008 in Beijing) was Shahar Zubari, who won bronze in sailing. Each country is permitted to send just one windsurfer to the Olympics, and Zubari edged out local rival Nimrod Mashiah for Israel’s spot.

“For me, reaching the Olympics is only the beginning,” Zubari told the Jerusalem Post.

Other prominent Israeli Olympians include Ariel Ze’evi, who won a bronze medal in judo at the 2004 Athens Games; Alice Schlesinger, a former bronze medalist at the Judo World Championships; Vered Buskila, a silver medalist in sailing at the 2005 European Championships; and Shahar Pe’er, once the 11th-ranked women’s tennis player in the world.

The London Games also mark the 20th anniversary of Israel’s first-ever Olympic medals—Yael Arad’s silver in half middleweight judo and Shay Oren Smadga’s bronze in half lightweight judo, both at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Ban Iranian Olympians, World Jewish Congress urges IOC

The World Jewish Congress called on the International Olympic Committee to bar Iran from the 2012 Games until the country allows its athletes to compete against Israelis.

The WJC’s complaint comes in the wake of a withdrawal by an Iranian swimmer, Mohammed Alirezaei, from a race in Shanghai last week in which an Israeli was participating. Although Alireazei claimed he was “tired and drowsy,” and denied political reasons, according to the WJC, he used a similar excuse at the 2008 Olympics when he refused to compete in a race that included Israeli Tom Beeri.

“Iran’s behavior is unsportmanlike and smacks of anti-Semitism,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in the statement. “It must be stopped!”

The WJC urged that Iran be banned from other international sporting events, as well.

The chairman of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, Mohammad Ali Abadi, said in an interview last year that Iranian athletes should boycott all competitions in which Israeli athletes participate, and in February he threatened to boycott the 2012 London Olympics over its logo—a stylized 2012 that Tehran claimed spelled Zion.

Sports in Iran are highly politicized. In 2009 four Iranian soccer players received lifelong bans for wearing green armbands in solidarity with protesters during a match, and last year an Iranian was kicked off his team after competing against an Israeli in the World Masters Weightlifting Championship.

VIDEO: Virtual Rabbi David presents ‘The Jewish Olympics’

Virtual Rabbi (and Olympics fan) David Paskin presents a Shabbat message based on the determination and dedication of Olympic athletes.

David Paskin, or Rabbi David as he is known by his congregants, is an accomplished spiritual leader, singer/songwriter, entertainer and award-winning Jewish educator. For more than a decade, David has served as full-time Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Abraham in Canton, Massachusetts


Mark Spitz: Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete ever

His hair is gray, the 70s mustache is history, he’s taking medication to control his cholesterol, and depending when you ask, iconic Jewish Olympian Mark Spitz is really pleased with the way the U.S. Olympics swimming team has fared this Summer.

Spitz on Phelps according to Wikipedia:

Spitz told AFP he felt snubbed about not being asked to attend the 2008 Olympics to watch Michael Phelps attempt to break his record of seven gold medals.

“I never got invited. You don’t go to the Olympics just to say, I am going to go. Especially because of who I am….I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That’s almost demeaning to me. It is not almost—it is.”

Spitz also says he could have won eight gold medals if given the chance. “I won seven events. If they had the 50m freestyle back then, which they do now, I probably would have won that too,” he said. And Spitz thinks Phelps will succeed, “he’s almost identical to me. He’s a world-record holder in all these events, so he is dominating the events just like I did,” Spitz said. “He reminds me of myself.”

Other than to pose for an odd picture with Phelps, Spitz does not have much interaction with the superstar. “He’s not sitting down with me asking for advice,” he said.

“They voted me one of the top five Olympians in all time. Some of them are dead. But they invited the other ones to go to the Olympics, but not me,” he said. “Yes, I am a bit upset about it.”

On August 14, Spitz appeared on NBC’s Today Show where he clarified his statement and his pride in Michael Phelps:

It’s about time that somebody else takes the throne. And I’m very happy for him. I really, truly am…I was working with a corporate sponsor who elected not to bring their US contingent over to China, and they piled on more work for me here in the United States, which was great. So I wasn’t able to get to the Olympics and watch Michael in the first couple of days. And they thought, some of these reporters, that I was supposed to be invited by some entity, and I told them that that wasn’t really the case, that doesn’t happen that way. And so, I’m sort of disappointed that I wasn’t there, but, you know, that interview somehow took a different turn, and I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of them and I’ve been true to form about the way I feel about Michael, and he’s doing a great job for the United States and inspiring a lot of great performances by the other team members.

Also on August 14, 2008, in an interview aired on Los Angeles KNBC-4’s morning news show, Today in L.A., Spitz was quoted saying he does believe that, “Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete ever.”

On August 15, 2008, as part of an interview on NBC, Spitz said that he felt Phelps’ performance in the 100 fly in Beijing was “epic”. Spitz paid this compliment to Phelps just two hours after his record-tying seventh gold medal during a live joint interview with Bob Costas:

You know, Bob and Michael, I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time, when it would happen and who I would say it to, and of course I thought I was going to say it to you for some time now. But, it’s the word that comes to mind, “epic”. What you did tonight was epic, and it was epic for the whole world to see how great you really are. I never thought for one moment that you were out of that race and contention, because I watched you at Athens win the race by similarALTTEXT margins, and 18 months ago at the World’s by similar margins. And, you know, that is a tribute to your greatness. And now the whole world knows. We are so proud of you Michael here in America, and we are so proud of you and the way that you handle yourself, and you represent such an inspiration to all the youngsters around the world. You know, you weren’t born when I did what I did, and I’m sure that I was a part of your inspiration, and I take that as a full compliment. And they say that you judge one’s character by the company you keep, and I’m happy to keep company with you. And you have a tremendous responsibility for all those people that you are going to inspire over the next number of years, and I know that you will wear the crown well. Congratulations, Mike.

Spitz’s remarks came after another record-breaking anchor sprint by Jewish gold medal winnner Jason Lezak (photo, right) helped Phelps win his record-breaking eight gold. Lezak had earlier earned a bronze in his first individual medal win.

The NY Daily News wrote:

You just wonder how the Olympics will go on now without Michael Phelps. He leaped into the water one last time Sunday morning – the third, butterfly leg of the 4×100 relay. He started in third place and clambered out in first, after 100meters of flapping and kicking and swimming the lights out. Phelps grabbed the lead and then his old wing man, Jason Lezak, did the rest again.

Another American Jewish swimming star, Los Angeles-born Dara Torres, a 41-year old mom, was edged by .01 second and garnered a silver—the same margin that kept Michael Phelps on course to break Mark Spitz’s record, wrote the Los Angeles Times:

The five-time Olympian and the oldest American swimmer ever, settled for a silver when Germany’s Britta Steffen nipped her at the wall in the 50-meter freestyle to complete a sweep of the women’s sprint events in Beijing.


USA’s Dara Torres wins silver in the Women’s 50m freestyle. Image courtesy


Sunday wrapup from Beijing: U.S. swimmer Torres wins two silvers; Israelis lag

BEIJING (JTA)—United States’ swimmer Dara Torres won two more silver medals in Beijing.

Torres won the medals Sunday in the Women’s 50m Freestyle and the Women’s 4x100m Medley Relay.

Jewish-American swimmers Jason Lezak and Garret Weber-Gale both added another gold medal to their collection, joining Michael Phelps and teammates to win the Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay.

Israeli athletes did not fare as well Sunday. Alex Shatilov finished last in the Men’s Floor Exercise final, the only apparatus final the Israeli gymnast qualified for in the Beijing Games.

Shatilov fell on his final landing, and received a score of 14.125 after a .400 penalty. The gold medalist in the event was Zou Kai of China, with a total score of 16.050.

Shooter Doron Egozi finished 36th, while Gil Simkovitch finished 38th, in the Men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions event. Shooters Guy Starik and Simkovich also competed Friday in the Men’s 50m Rifle Prone qualification round, but neither advanced to the final. Starik came in 12th with a score of 594, while Simkovich came in 22nd with 592 points. This finish was an improvement on Starik’s Athens finish of 16th. He joins sailor Yoel Selais as the only Israelis to compete in four Olympics.

Israeli windsurfer Shahar Zubari, who was leading in first place after five races, slipped to third place after his seventh race in the Men’s RS:X competition. Zubari finished 17th in race 5, sixth in race 6, and 19th in race 7. He was able to maintain a first place position after race 5 because he is allowed to drop his worst performance, but after continuing to perform outside of first place, he no longer retains his top rank.

Israeli windsurfer Maayan Davidovitch is 14th in the Women’s RS:X competition after seven races.

Israeli sailing duo Nike Kornecky and Vered Bouskila finished their eighth race in first place, and moved up to number three in the ranking of the Women’s 470 two-person dinghy event. With two more races until the top ten boats in the fleet qualify for the medal race on Monday, the Israeli pair looks solid for advancement.

Net losses for Israelis at Olympics

BEIJING (JTA)—Israel’s tennis players were eliminated from the Beijing Olympics.

Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, the third-seeded men’s doubles team with perhaps the best chance at a medal among the Israelis on the court, were upset Tuesday by the unseeded tandem of Arnaud Clement and Llodra Michael of France, 6-4, 6-4, in their first-round match.

Erlich and Ram had beaten the Frenchmen in January in the Australian Open final to give Israel its first Grand Slam title.

Also Tuesday, Tzipora Obziler fell to Mariya Koryttseva of Ukraine, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4, in a grueling three-hour women’s singles match. The deciding set lasted an hour, 6 minutes.

That same evening, Obziler and Shahar Peer dropped a women’s double match, 6-3, 6-2, to Gisela Dulko and Betina Jozami of Argentina.

Peer, the 24th seed in women’s singles, was eliminated in the second round Monday by Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, 6-3, 7-6. The second set took 1:11.

Peer had won her first-round match, 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, over Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

Southland Olympians go for the gold

Several Jewish Olympians due to compete in Beijing are either from Southern California or have ties to the area. If any of them medal in their respective events, they will join a long list of Jewish Angelenos who have enjoyed the spotlight of the Olympic awards ceremony.

Perhaps the most famous Jewish competitor with ties to the Southland this year is swimmer Dara Torres, who is competing in an unprecedented fifth Olympiad at age 41.

Don’t let the surname deceive you. Torres’ father is Jewish, and she formally converted before marrying her second husband, an Israeli surgeon. She attended Westlake School for Girls before it merged with a boys’ school to become Harvard-Westlake in Studio City and swam for coach Darlene Bible, who’s still at the school as a swimming coach and athletic director.

Torres already has nine Olympic medals to her credit, including three golds for swimming on freestyle relay teams in Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney in 2000. Sports Illustrated does not predict she will win a medal in the 50-meter freestyle this time, but Time lists her as the No. 2 of 100 Olympic athletes to watch.

Jason Lezak, born in Irvine, has four Olympic medals. He was on the same gold-medal-winning medley relay team as Peirsol, and won gold as a member of the medley relay team in Sydney. He also has a silver medal from swimming on the 4×100 freestyle relay in Sydney and a bronze in the same event from Athens.

The pool has been good to Jewish Olympians. Lenny Krayzelburg, who was born in Ukraine but lived in Los Angeles and attended USC, won four gold medals, mostly for backstroke. Anthony Ervin was born in Burbank, attended William S. Hart High in Santa Clarita and won a gold medal in the 50 freestyle in Sydney, as well as silver as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay.

Marilyn Ramenofsky isn’t as well known, but she was a world record holder in the 400-meter freestyle and won silver in that event at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Five years later, she earned her undergraduate degree in Botany-Biology from Pomona College in Claremont.

And who can forget Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals and set world records in each event in 1972 at Munich? Spitz, who was born in Modesto and grew up in Sacramento, now lives in Los Angeles.

Marathon runner Deena Kastor, 35, won bronze in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. While the Agoura Hills native won the Olympic trial this time, Sports Illustrated is not predicting a medal for her in China.

Cyclist Adam Duvendeck, who was born in Santa Barbara and lives in Long Beach, appeared in the 2004 Games in the team sprint. (His passion for the Olympics is so great he had the rings tattooed on his back after qualifying for the 2004 team.) Duvendeck is a five-time U.S. national champion and had the top American finish in the 2008 World Cup. He fared well at the 2007 Pan American Games, where he took silver in the team sprint and fourth in the keirin.

Soccer midfielder Benny Feilhaber grew up playing the game on the streets of Rio de Janeiro before his family left Brazil for the United States when he was 6. Feilhaber, 23, enjoyed four years playing for Northwood High School in Irvine, and made the team at UCLA in 2003 was a walk-on. He scored silver for the United States in the Maccabiah Games in 2004, and after playing for the U.S. National Team in 2007 he moved on to Derby County in the English Premier League. Sports Illustrated expects Feilhaber to provide depth for the United States in central midfield at Beijing.

Other past Jewish Olympians with ties to Los Angeles include:

  • Sam Balter — A UCLA basketball player who was the only Jew on the gold-medal-winning team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
  • Lillian Copeland — She threw the discus at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, winning silver. Four years later, she won gold in her hometown as a USC student, one of 18 Jews from around the world to medal.
  • Sasha Cohen — the only winter Olympian with local ties — she was born in Westwood — finished second in figure skating at Torino in 2006.
  • Jackie Fields — A boxer who won gold in the featherweight division in 1924 in Paris. The 1939 movie “The Crowd Roars” is about his Olympic triumph. He died in Los Angeles.
  • Mitch Gaylord — He was the first American gymnast to score a perfect 10 in the Olympics, helping the men’s team win the gold in 1984. He also won silver on the vault and bronze on the rings and the parallel bars. Gaylord and Torres were two of nine Jewish Olympians to medal in 1984.
  • Brad Gilbert — He might be better known now as Andre Agassi’s former tennis coach, but he attended Pepperdine and won a bronze in 1988 in Seoul.
  • Steve Seymour — He won a silver medal for the javelin throw in London Olympics in 1948. Track and field historians consider him America’s original master technician of the event, because he studied the Finns, who dominated the event at the time. He died in Los Angeles.
  • Kerri Strug — She made the vault that clinched gold for the U.S. gymnastics team in 1996 in Atlanta, but before that she won a bronze medal as a member of the 1992 team in Barcelona. She later attended UCLA.

Nate Bloom contributed to this report.