Tokyo Olympics: All the Jewish athletes to watch – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on July 13, 2021

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally happening, a full year after they were planned. And yes, theyre still being called the 2020 Olympics, even though theyre happening in 2021.

The Jewish athletes competing this year andthere are many are the products of inspiring journeys. Theres the fencer looking for redemption, Israels first Olympic surfer, one of the greatest canoe paddlers of all time, a teen track star para-athlete, and so many more.

The games run July 23 through Aug. 8; the Paralympics will be held Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Here are many of the inspiring Jewish athletes to root for.

Basketball, USA

Is Sue Bird one of the greatest Jewish athletes of all time? Perhaps.

The basketball legend has won gold medals with the U.S. womens basketball team in the last four yes, four Olympics.(The team has not lost at the games since 1992.) Bird, now 40, is back for her fifth, and likely last, Olympics.

The child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, Bird was born and raised in Syosset, Long Island. Shes been a basketball star since her debut for the University of Connecticut in 1998 and selection as the WNBAs No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002 by the Seattle Storm. In her nearly 20 years as a pro, Bird has won four WNBA championships (includinglast year in the Covid-19 bubble) and is a 12-time All-Star.

Bird also gained Israeli citizenship in 2006 in a basketball-motivated decision, so she could play for European teams. Her citizenship also allowed her to connect to her Jewish identity.

It was cool because what I found was in this effort to create an opportunity in my basketball career, I was able to learn a lot about a culture that I probably wouldnt have tapped into otherwise,Bird told the Washington Jewish Museum.

Read more on Sue Bird here.

The womens basketball tournament begins on July 26; the U.S. plays its first game on July 27 against Nigeria. The gold medal game is Aug. 8.

Rhythmic Gymnastics, Israel

Israels best chance at winning a medal is 22-year-old Linoy Ashram. The Mizrahi and Sephardi gymnast (her father is Yemeni Jewish and her mother is Greek Jewish) is set to compete in her first Olympics after winningin the individual rhythmic category at the European Championships in 2020the first athlete to take the gold medal in decades who was not from a former Soviet country or Bulgaria.

Ashram has many firsts for her country: Shes the first rhythmic gymnast from Israel to win an individual all-around medal at the World Championships, the first to win gold in the World Cup series and the first to win a European All-Around title. Can she be the first to win gold in gymnastics at the Olympics? Well find out early next month.

Read more on Linoy Ashram here.

The rhythmic gymnastics competition takes place Aug. 6-8.

Tennis, Argentina

Diego Schwartzman is the highest-ranked Jewish tennis player in the world. Last year he broke into the top 10 for the first time,becomingthe shortest top 8 playersince 5-foot-6 Harold Solomon, also Jewish, in 1981. The Argentines listed height of 5-7 iscalledone of the more generous measurements in professional sports helikely standsaround 5-4 (the U.S. Open lists himat 5-5). Watching him go shot to shot with players that are over a foot taller is nothing short of remarkable.

Nicknamed El Peque, or Shorty, the 28-year-old is set to play in his first Olympics. (For tennis, qualifications are based on world rankings, with the top 56 players becoming eligible.)

Schwartzman is open about and proud of his Jewish identity.Last year hewrote movingly on his familys Holocaust history, and how his great-grandfather escaped a train car headed for a concentration camp and ended up in Argentina.

I am Jewish and in Argentina, we have many Jewish [people] there, and all the people there know me,he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2017.

Read more on Diego Schwartzman here.

The mens tennis tournament begins on July 24.

Beach volleyball, USA

Alix Klineman had played indoor volleyball for Stanford in college and professionally following her graduation in 2011. But in 2016, she failed to make the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team and vowed to find another way to compete at the games. So she switched to beach volleyball. Unlike indoor volleyball, which has teams with rosters selected by coaches, beach volleyball is a two-person sport dependent on your own results with a partner.

I looked at the beach as a new opportunity and a chance to chase my dreams without anybody having to give me approval or put me on a roster,she said in 2019. The biggest thing was pursuing the Olympics and getting a new shot at that.

Klineman teamed with two-time Olympian April Ross she had been partnered with three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings and they quickly rose in the rankings. They are entering the Tokyo Games with a world ranking of No. 2, with a more than solid chance of winning gold.

Klineman, 31, was raised in Southern California in a Jewish family. In 2015, she wasinducted into the SoCal Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Read more on Alix Klineman here.

The womens beach volleyball tournament begins on July 24.

Surfing, Israel

Anat Lelior is Israels first and only Olympic surfer. Surfing is new to the Olympics, andonly 20 men and 20 women will be competingthis summer. Lelior, 21, qualified as the highest-ranked female surfer from Europe (Israel competes in European leagues). Lelior, who hails from Tel Aviv and served in the Israeli military, started surfing at 5, and by 12 she had won the Israeli national championships.

I know people arent aware of surfing in Israel, and the fact that I get to be the one to show people that were capable of more than they think, thats just amazing, Leliortold Surfline. But more than that, I want to show kids, women, everyone from everywhere, that they can do anything they want. Theres no limits. I mean, look at me. I had no idea that this would happen, and now Im going to the freaking Olympics.

Read more on Anat Lelior here.

The surfing competition is subject to change depending on wave conditions at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach. The womens competition is tentatively scheduled for July 25-28.

Baseball, Israel

The Cinderella story continues.

In 2017, Israels national baseball team which included several American Jewish players who became Israeli citizens to represent the country surprised observers by placing sixth at the World Baseball Classic, an international tournament of the worlds best teams, with wins over top squads from South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba. Israel was far from a top-10 powerhouse at the time, not even ranked in the top 10 teams in Europe. That made sense, as few Israelis play the sport.

Along the way, the team ginned up enthusiasm for baseball in Israel and gave some under-the-radar Jewish players, many who had spent several years in the minor leagues, new chances to shine. Oh, and there was that endearing mascot alife-sized Mensch on a Bench.

In 2019, Team Israel won the European Baseball Championship to qualify for the Olympics. The current roster is anchored by de facto captain Danny Valencia who has Cuban and Jewish heritage and hit 96 home runs over eight Major League Baseball seasons andIan Kinsler, a former four-time MLB All-Star who made it to Israel on one of the last flights before Covid-19 shutdowns last year to earn his Israeli citizenship.

One Bay Area native is on the team, Joey Wagman of Danville.

Only six teams are in play (the field also includes South Korea, Japan, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the United States), so Team Israel has a chance of snagging a medal.

Read more on Ian Kinsler here and on Bay Area players with connections to the team here.

The baseball tournament runs July 28-Aug. 7. Israels first game is against the United States.

Canoe slalom, Australia

Jessica Foxis known as the greatest paddler of all time: She has 10 World Championship medals, including seven gold medals, and seven overall World Cup titles. Her parents,Richard FoxandMyriam Jerusalmi, also were Olympic canoeists Myriam, a French-Jewish athlete, won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games.Mom is now coaching her daughter.

Born in Marseille, France, Fox moved to Australia at 4, so her dad could take up a coaching position with the Australian Olympic team.

Both my parents competing in the Olympic Games is something pretty special, shesaid. It definitely inspired me to get to this position. Winning a medal is something that you dream [of] and Im proud to follow in my mothers footsteps.

Fox, 27, won silverin the K-1 slalom competition at the 2012 London Olympics and bronze in the 2016 Rio Games. This year, for the first time, women will also be competing in C-1 slalom so Fox, ranked No. 1 in the world, is favored to win not just one but two gold medals.

In 2012, Fox became the the second Australian Jewish athlete to ever win an Olympic medal.

Read more on Jessica Fox here.

The womens K-1 slalom competition is July 25-27. C-1 slalom is July 28-29.

Fencing, USA

Eli Dershwitzis returning to the Olympics for redemption.

At the 2016 Rio Games, the Jewish saber fencer lost in the opening round. In 2021, hes ranked No. 2 in the world and hoping to medal.

Dershwitz, who started fencing at 9, would win back-to-back NCAA championships for Harvard in 2017 and 2018. In Tokyo, hewill aimto become the fifth U.S. man to win a medal in saber fencing. No American man has ever won gold in the category.

Born and raised in Sherborn, Massachusetts, to a Jewish family, Dershwitzs maternalgrandparents are Holocaust survivors. He has a twin sister, Sally, who worked on the frontlines caring for patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dershwitz grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Natick, Massachusetts, andtold Hillel Internationalbefore the Rio Games that he considers himself a proud member of the Jewish community.

The Jewish community has been very supportive throughout my journey to the Olympics, and I look forward to representing them on the world stage, hesaidin 2016.

Read more on Eli Dershwitz here.

The mens saber fencing individual competition takes place on July 24; the mens saber team competition is on July 28.

Racewalking, Australia

Jemima Montagwas perhaps destined for Jewish athletic greatness. Her parents, Ray and Amanda, met at the 1989 Maccabiah Games the Olympics for Jewish athletes held in Israel where Amanda was competing in the heptathlon and Ray was a cricketer. They hit it off on the flight home to Australia.

Growing up, the Montags encouraged their daughters (Jemima is one of three) to try everything, from long jump to shot put to ballet. But for Montag, race walking just clicked.

I found that my combination of endurance, hypermobile joints and fiery competitiveness were a great trio for racewalking, shesaid.

Montag soon became one of the best racewalkers in Australia, but after the World Youth Championships in 2015, she decided to step away from the sport. A family ski trip to Japan in 2017 reignited her competitive spirit. Her sister joked shed love to return to the country for the Olympics, and her mom encouraged her to go for it. A year later, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games a tournament of the Commonwealth nations, or the former territories under British control Montag won gold in the 20km event.

Montag credits her Holocaust survivor grandparents for her work ethic and resilience. When a training session or race feels tough, she thinks about them andreminds herselfthat grit and perseverance are in my DNA.

Read more about Jemima Montag here.

The womens 20km race walk will take place on Aug. 6.

Judo, Israel

At the 2016 Rio Olympics,Or Ori Sassonwon bronze in the mens heavyweight judo competition and became a national hero overnight not just for his skill but also his sportsmanship after one of his opponents, from Egypt,refused to shake his hand following a match.

Every boy and girl saw not only a great athlete but a man with values, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Sasson in a phone call that was broadcast live on Israeli TV. You showed the true face of Israel, its beautiful face.

Sasson spent the pandemic year delay competing on Israels version of The Masked Singer his costume was a falafel sandwich and finished third.Watch one of his performances here.

This year, the Kurdish Jewish Sasson now 30 and likely in his last Olympics is set to compete in the heavyweight competition and in the team competition, an addition to the Olympics judo lineup. Judo has been the pride of Israels Olympic fortunes, winning five of the nations nine overall medals. (See more on one of Sassons teammates below.)

Read more about Ori Sasson here.

The mens 100+ kg competition is on July 30. The team competition is on July 31.

Judo, Israel

Sagi Mukimade headlines when he befriended an Iranian judoka, Saeid Mollaei, who was forced to throw a match to avoid competing against an Israeli athlete. Mollaei fled Iran as a dissident and received refugee status in Germany.The story of their friendship is now being made into a TV show.

But Muki,29, is an Olympic medal contender in his own right. The half-middleweight judoka is a two-time Israeli national champion,a2019 world champion, and the 2017 and 2018 European champion. He was expected to medal at the 2016 Rio Games but was hampered by an injury.

Born and raised in Netanya, Israel, to a Yemeni Jewish family, he started focusing on judo when he was 8 years old.

The mens under-81 kg competition is on July 27.

Marathon, Israel

Maru Teferi, who was born in northwestern Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel with his Jewish family when he was 14, is the Israeli record holder in six distances, including the half marathon and the marathon. His fastest marathon time of 2:07:20, run right before the pandemic in February 2020 is just 6 minutes off the world record.

Now hes set to compete in his second Olympics. This time hell be joined by his wife, Selamawit Selam Dagnachew Teferi. Theyll be the first married couple to represent Israel at the Olympics.

Teferi, 28, met now-wife Selam while training in Ethiopia in 2012. Selam, 27, is not Jewish, but she moved to Israel in 2017 after the couple married and became an Israeli citizen. That made her eligible to represent Israel at the Olympics.

Even in our wildest dreams, we didnt think this would be possible, Selamsaid.

Read more about Maru Teferi here.

The mens marathon will take place on the last day of the Olympics, Aug. 8. To watch Selam, the womens 5,000m competition begins July 30; the finals are Aug. 2. The womens 10,000m is on Aug. 7.

Paralympics track and field, USA

Ezra Frech is only 16 years old, but hes already made a name for himself as a para-athlete. The Los Angeles native competes in the high jump, long jump and the 100m race.

Due to a congenital abnormality, Frech was born with only one finger on his left hand, and he was missing his left knee and shinbone.At 2 he had surgery to remove the curved part of his leg, and had a toe attached to his left hand. By 9 hewas on Ellentalking about his athletics and advocating for adaptive sports, and at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, he was the youngest athlete in the world to compete at 14.

Everywhere you go, people dont think youre capable of what an able-bodied person can do, Frechsaid. Ill go to my high school track meet and they dont expect the one-legged kid to go out and win the competition. When I was younger it got to me, but now its a motivation and excites me that I have a chance to prove people wrong, to shock them and turn some heads.

His mom,Bahar Soomekh, is a Persian Jewish actress. She fled Iran with her family in 1979. His dad, Clayton Frech, left his job in 2013 to foundAngel City Sportsto bring adaptive sports opportunities to Los Angeles.

Frech saidhis goal in Tokyo is to win multiple medals. He has no shortage of confidence it will happen.

You can quote me on this: I will be a multi medalist when I walk away from Tokyo, he said. We can look back after the Games and Ill say I called it.

Read more about Ezra Frech here.

Marathon, Israel

Israel has another marathoner in Maor Tiyouri.Like Teferi, this is Tiyouris second Olympics, but qualifying this time was much more challenging for the 30-year-old runner. For the womens marathon competition, the Olympic standard the time needed to qualify for the games dropped 15 minutes, from 2 hours, 45 minutes to 2:29:30. For Tiyouri, that meant running 13 minutes faster than her personal best.

When they changed it back in 2018 I was devastated because it seemed like such a huge jump at the time and I didnt fully believe then that I could quite get it in time for Tokyo, Tiyouritold Alma. I knew I had to raise my game if I wanted to be on that starting line. And she made it running 2:29:03 in April.

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