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Jews in the Olympics

Since 1896 Jewish sportsmen and sportswomen have been an integral part of Olympic competition, in both summer and winter Games. Speedskater Irving Jaffe was the first Jewish winter Olympics medal winner in 1928, according to “Jews in the Olympics” exhibition running through September at the Jewish Community Building, 6505 Wilshire Blvd.

Technicalities prevented Jaffe’s best time from netting him a gold medal in the 10,000 meter event and he did place 4th in the 5000 meter loop. In 1932 Jaffe ran an uphill battle to make the USA team and slid into first place in both events.

Other Jewish winter Olympics medal winners include Hungary’s figure skating duo Emillia Rotter and Laszlo Szollas who won a bronze medal in 1936. Russian Jewish speedskaters Rafael Gratsch and Boris Gurevitsch won gold medals in 1956 and 1960, respectively. Coreligionist Vladimir Myshkin played on the silver-medaled 1980 Soviet ice hockey team. Rudi Ball was on Hungary’s bronze-winning ice hockey team in 1932.

After many years of bitter international debate, women’s track and field events were finally added to the official Olympic Games roster in 1928. Two North American Jewish women won medals in that first year.

Southern Californian Lilian Copeland won the silver medal in discus and in 1932 went on to capture the gold. In 1928 Canadian Fanny Rosenfeld won the gold in the 400 meter dash and the silver in the 100 meter dash.

The international exhibition documenting the achievements of Jews in sports is a project of the Southern California Jewish Historical Society. A commemorative poster and medal are available. Call (213) 852-1234.

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