LONDON — While both took to the podiums in London last week to receive a medal, 18-year-old Alexandra (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 July 31 – the first Olympic gold medal for the U.S. gymnastics squad since the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Though Raisman was favoured to win a medal in the all-around individual competition, she finished fourth and out of the medals.
With the events concluded, she finished with 59.666 points, the same as Russian gymnast Aliya Mustafina. Under the tie-breaking system employed at the Games, each athlete’s worst score from four events is eliminated and the remaining results tallied up. Under that formula, Mustafina captured the bronze medal.
Still, Raisman could add to her medal total in individual floor exercises and in the balance beam finals, events that were held after The CJN went to press.
Lezak, a four-time gold medallist likely competing in his last Olympics, helped the American men’s swimming team qualify for the 4×100-metre 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.
Meanwhile, the Israeli delegation was experiencing its ups and downs early in the Games.
On July 31, two Israeli medal hopefuls were faring well in windsurfing.
In women’s RS:X-class sailing, Israeli Lee-El Korzits was third overall after six races in the 10-race competition. Korzits finished first in one race, second in two, had one third-place finish, a seventh and an 11th.
In men’s RS:X, Israeli medal hopeful Shahar Zubari was in 12th place after six races. Zubari, who won a bronze medal in the event in Beijing Games, was a long shot to reach the top 10 and earn a spot in the medal round.
Yakov Toumarkin, a Russian-born Israeli swimmer, advanced to the finals of the 200-metre backstroke, but finished seventh.
In judo, medal hopeful Arik Ze’evi lost his first match in 43 seconds. A four-time European champion, Ze’evi was competing in his fourth – and likely final – Olympics. He had won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, but was quickly beaten by German judoka Dimitri Peters in the men’s 100-kilogram match.
Judoka Alice Schlesinger was eliminated from competition early last week.
Political differences between Israel and its Arab neighbours came to London when the Lebanese judo team refused to practise 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.
Even before the start of the Games, Iranian judo athlete Javad Mahjoob withdrew from the competition, citing “critical digestive system infection.” That led to widespread speculation that Iran was maintaining a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to compete against Israelis.
In the pool, American swimmers led all the way in the men’s 4×100-metre relay until Yannick Agnel of France pulled ahead of Ryan Lochte in the final lap. France finished first in three minutes 9.93 seconds, ahead of the United States (3:10.38) and Russia (3:11.41).
Lezak, though he did not swim in the relay final, 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 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, and taught swimming clinics for neighbourhood 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. 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 said last year. And, she added, “I like how the crowd can clap to it.”
A clip from NBC showing Raisman’s parents’ reaction to her uneven bar routine garnered more than 25,000 hits on YouTube.
The clip shows Raisman’s mother. and father commenting on their daughter’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 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.
The Israeli Olympic tennis duo of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram were eliminated after losing in two sets to the American Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob. Earlier, Ram and Erlich upset the 2008 gold medallists in men’s doubles, Roger Federer and Stanislaw Wawrinca of Switzerland.
The Israelis beat the Swiss pair, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, in the second round to advance to the quarterfinals.
Along with Israel, the Erlich-Ram victory brought grins to Jewish communities in Argentina and neighbouring Uruguay. Erlich was born in Buenos Aires and made aliyah with his family when he was a year old. Ram is a native of Montevideo, Uruguay. His father is the Israeli Betar Jerusalem soccer player Amiram Ram; his mother is Uruguayan.
Erlich and Ram have been representing Israel for more than a decade. Their greatest victory came in 2008, when they won the Australian Open. They also own Davis Cup wins in 2009 over Russia, in 2007 over Luxembourg and Italy, and in 2006 over Great Britain.
In men’s gymnastics, Israel’s Alex Shatilov qualified for the finals of the floor exercise after finishing fourth overall. That event took place after The CJN went to press. He also finished 12th in the men’s individual all-around competition.
In men’s rowing, David Banks of the U.S. men’s eight team finished out of the medals in fourth, in an event that saw Canada win silver.