Monday, August 11, 2008

Jewish natation notes

There are two stories about the Olympic swimming events that have major connections to Jewish swimmers. The first has received a large amount of coverage because it had a direct impact on Michael Phelps' quest for eight Olympic gold medals. The incredible comeback for the U.S. team in the 4 x 100 meter relay was made possible last night by Jason Lezak, whose 46.06 anchor leg was the fastest ever swum, beating the 100 meter world record holder Alain Bernard of France by one one-hundredth of a second (0:00:01). Bernard, who had issued invectives on behalf of the French team against the Americans taunted them saying France would "smash them." He occupied the lane next to Lezak. Not only was this Lezak's personal best, but he contributed mightily to shattering the world record time that he and his teammates had set yesterday at the preliminaries at 3:12:23. This new world record shaved off nearly four seconds from that record at 3:08:24. Wow! Previous to the Olympics, Lezak held three world records, five American records, four Olympic medals and eight national titles. Now consider one other factor. Lezak is the oldest swimmer on the U.S. men's team at 32. Also contributing as part of the phenomenal team effort was the second leg swum by Garrett Weber-Gale, who hit gold in his Olympic debut. Like Lezak, Weber-Gale now owns a world record, an Olympic gold medal, and happens to be Jewish. While the media may have been deemed the other a "smaller" story, it does have a lot to say about what in life is truly important. Israeli swimmer Alon Mandel set a new national record at the Olympics when he finished fourth in one of the men's 200 meter butterfly heats with his time of 1:59:27. Despite this incredible time, Mandel did not qualify for the semi-finals, but it was obvious that he had swum his heart out. This was because that heart was broken earlier in the week when it was revealed that his father Kostia had died in an accidental fall from a ladder at his family home in Netanya, Israel. Rather than drop his Olympic dream, Mandel was counseled by his mother Rina not to return home for the funeral, but to concentrate on doing his best at the Olympics as his father would have wanted him to do. Mandel's sister Maya watched in the stands at the "Water Cube" Aquatics Center in Beijing as she cheered her brother on. Mandel is just one of seven Israeli swimmers competing in the 2008 Games, but his performance gives the tiny nation beset with so many political problems a litle bit to cheer about at this 27th Olympiad of the modern era.

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