The medal count was good – four silvers and two bronze – but they tell only half the story of the recently concluded Pan American Maccabi Games, says Maccabi Canada president Tom Bacher.
The best part of the recently concluded games in addition to the intense competition, was the camaraderie, the all-for-one-and-one-for–all attitude of the participants, and the pride in participating in a unique event that brought together Jews from around the world, he said.
Bacher was gushing as he recounted the Canadian team’s experience in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they joined 2,000 athletes from 16 countries at the games, held Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.
It started with the opening ceremonies in which the Canadian team was joined by family members, Maccabi officials and staff.
The march-in “creates pride in being Jewish, of being part of this worldwide organization,” he said. “It was an amazing group of people who came together for the common good.”
The Pan Am Maccabi is one of several regional games that take place every four years between Maccabiahs in Israel. The next Maccabiah is scheduled for the summer of 2013.
The smaller Pan Am Maccabi attracted athletes from Canada, Brazil, The United States, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Panama and other countries.
Bacher, who was a member of past Canadian teams in Israel, was able to play a few innings for the silver-medal winning master’s softball team in Sao Paulo. As president, however, his duties took him to various venues to cheer on the Canadian athletes, and one competition in particular has him effusive.
It was the basketball semifinal, one in which the 0-3 Canadians tipped off against Brazil. Despite the latter’s home-court advantage, there were more than 100 Canadian spectators at the event, and they made lots of noise, Bacher recalled.
Down by 10 going into the fourth quarter, the boisterous Canadians helped rally the team, which mounted an improbable comeback to win by four points.
“The crowd was rocking,” Bacher said. “They were screaming their heads off. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event.”
Canadian athletes and fans went from competition to competition to cheer their countrymen. Altogether, Maccabi Canada was represented by 90 coaches and athletes – four basketball teams (men’s masters (over 35), men’s open, under-19 and under-17), two softball teams (master’s and open), one open soccer team and one table tennis player, Mitchell Billinkoff. The Winnipegger came home with one silver medal and two bronze medals.
The master’s basketball team won silver, as did the open hoops squad, while the other two teams lost in the bronze medal games. The open softball team also finished second, while the soccer teams were competitive against soccer-mad countries, but came away with no medals.
Despite the lack of soccer medals, Bacher is optimistic that with a complete lineup of its best players, the team can challenge for a medal in Israel next year.
The same holds true for basketball. He’s expected three or four top players who were unavailable in Brazil to bolster the Canadian team in Israel.
Preparations are already under way for the 2013 Games. Maccabi Canada is relying on its contacts in the sporting world to identify accomplished athletes, and in February, the organization will begin holding open tryouts for a variety of teams and sports.
One of the sports Canadians are expected to medal in is hockey. The sport was added to the 2013 Games for its first appearance since 1997, when Team Canada won gold. Teams from Canada, the United States, France and Israel are expected to compete. Russia may yet make it a five-country tournament, Bacher said.
Maccabiah organizers are considering three divisions – the open, which will bring together the best players of all ages, a master’s division and an under-19 grouping.
It’s not yet clear if the master’s competition will be considered a medal sport or a demonstration event. If it’s the latter, Canada might well send two teams, Bacher said.
Overall, Maccabi Canada might have as many as 450 athletes and staff at the 2013 Games. Plans are to bring the entire contingent to Israel for a five-day pre-competition mini-camp that will build team unity and allow for sightseeing as well as volunteer work.