BUENOS AIRES (Aug. 2)
Olympic teams from countries outside of Israel and the United States will be notably short on Jewish athletes during the Athens Games. Still, from weightliftinglifting to soccer to table tennis, several Jewish athletes will be displaying the colors of their respective countries during the competition in Greece, which gets under way Aug. 13.
Following are some of their profiles:
DARIO LECMAN, Weightlifting, Argentina
Dario Lecman says he spent the better part of his first 16 years hanging out at the Maccabi Jewish center in Buenos Aires. It was there, he says, that he first discovered weightlifting.
“I used to spend a lot of time at the weightlifting area, because many cute girls were there, exercising their bottoms,” says the 32-year-old Lecman, during an interview in Buenos Aires.
Although Lecman did not find his soul mate at Maccabi’s gym, he did fall in love with weightlifting, the sport in which he will be repres! enting Argentina at the upcoming Games.
The 210-pound Lecman qualified for the previous two Olympics. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, a last-minute sprain kept him out of the competition. Four years later, in Sydney, he competed, though residual pain from a wrist injury kept him from doing well.
Still, Lecman, who says he hopes to finish in the top eight in Athens, has had success in previous international competition. He has won gold and silver medals in the Pan-American Games and was awarded Argentina’s prestigious Silver Olimpias award five times.
Born of Russian and Polish Jewish roots, Lecman says that, unlike other more popular sports where fame and fortune are draws, weightlifters live in relative anonymity.
“When you are young, the world shows you that the best tennis players are successful,” he says. “They have money and fame. There is not the same image constructed from the weightlifting environment.”
Indeed, Lecman is neither famous nor a millionai! re.
Nevertheless, he says, his sport has offered him a wealth of life lessons, including “the philosophy of effort, the capacity of planning, the humbleness, the perseverance.”
“Sometimes I feel bad when I meet first-world weightlifters who are not better than me, but just have a better infrastructure,” Lecman says. “However, when I see the friends that studied physical education with me and I see my success, I feel lucky.”
Lecman’s Jewish identity includes fond memories of Passover seders at the home of his cousin in the Once neighborhood of Buenos Aires, a center for Argentine Jewish life.
It also includes a Hebrew phrase he and his friends were taught during their days at the Maccabi center: chazak v’ematz: be strong and brave.
In Athens, Lecman plans to be.
GAVIN FINGLESON, Baseball, Australia
Twenty-seven-year-old Gavin Fingleson, of Sydney, Australia, has of late been playing baseball in the Unites States with the New Haven County Cutters, a team in the independent Northeast League.
But during the Olympi! cs, he’ll be donning the uniform of Australia’s national team to compete on an Athens baseball diamond.
Fingleson, who is the Cutters leading hitter, arrived in Australia from his native South Africa when he was 11 years old and showed great baseball talent even before his Bar Mitzvah.
He represented his state’s junior team in baseball for four seasons before ultimately being selected for the senior team. He played for both Australia’s under-16 and under-19 teams, eventually winning a baseball scholarship to Wallace State Community College in Alabama, where he earned a degree in science.
Fingleson then won another scholarship, this time at the Southeastern Louisiana University, where he gained further degrees in health promotion and exercise science.
He remained in the U.S. for three years thereafter, playing baseball professionally in Louisiana, New York and Minneapolis before being scouted and signed by a team in Taiwan.
In Taiwan, he says, “there was so m! uch pork being offered, I lost 22 pounds in weight, restricting myself to lots of protein shakes.”
Before returning to Sydney, Fingleson took the time out there to learn to speak some Chinese. Feeling he had achieved his baseball goals, Fingleson gave the game up to focus time and effort on his newly founded training and fitness center in Sydney.
But the lure of the game was too great and he was soon back at the plate in Olympic qualifying events. He says he now is looking forward to competition in Athens, where he expects Cuba and Japan will be the major contenders for gold.
SONYA CHERVONSKY, Judo, Australia
When she was 15 years old, Russian-born Sonya Chervonsky was introduced to judo and fell immediately in love with the sport. Now 21, the Sydney resident will represent Australia in Athens in this rough and tumble contact sport.
In the last seven years, Chervonsky has made a rapid rise in the sport’s rankings and has won both junior and senior national titles.
Chervonsky, who has spent time in Slovenia and Japan fine t! uning her skills, attributes her success to her coaches. Without her love of training, she says, the Olympic goal would have been even more difficult to reach.
TAL KARP — Women’s soccer, Australia
Tal Karp, 22, can still recall being kicked off the field when she tried to get in on a boys soccer game at the Maccabi sports center in Perth when she was just 6 years old. She sat watching the game in tears.
When soccer competition gets underway in Athens, Karp will no longer be watching, she’ll be playing; for Australia’s national team.
A midfielder, Karp is considered one of Australia’s finest players, and has represented the country 23 times in international competition.
But with the Olympics just around the corner, Karp has already set herself a new goal: making the team to represent Israel, where her father was born, in the 2005 Maccabiah.
DAVID ZALCBERG — Table tennis, Australia
David Zalcberg, 23, may be Australian, but he lives part of each year! in Sweden so that he can participate in European table tennis tournam ents.
In August he’ll be in Athens, competing in the table tennis doubles event.
In 1997, Zalcberg won Maccabiah gold during the games in Ramat Gan, Israel, and was one of the unfortunate Australian athletes who plummeted into the Yarkon River that year when a bridge en route to the Opening Ceremonies of the Games collapsed. Four athletes lost their lives in the accident.
Still, Zalcberg, a medical student and fluent French speaker, is hoping to make the team again for the 2005 Maccabiah.
But before that, all focus is on Athens.
JTA correspondent Henry Benjamin in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.