The 13th Maccabiah, the quadrennial Jewish Olympic-style games, got off to a boisterous, emotion-charged and dramatic start Monday night, when a one-armed war veteran raced into Ramat Gan Stadium bearing the Olympic flame.
The honor went to Hanoch Bugin, who lost his right arm during the war in Lebanon. The ex-soldier took up swimming as therapy and became so proficient that he won a place on the Israeli team that went to the Special Olympics last October in Seoul, South Korea.
Bugin was the last of 500 relay runners who carried the torch from Modi’in, the birthplace of the Maccabees. It had been kindled there by Gen. Dan Shomron, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff.
Bugin’s arrival brought a roar from the throats of 50,000 spectators. But they saved their longest and loudest cheers for the first Jewish sports delegation from the Soviet Union ever to participate in a Maccabiah.
It consisted of 50 Jewish athletes from Soviet Lithuania. They marched with the red flag of the USSR, a Lithuanian flag, a sign reading “USSR-Lithuania” and a giant banner inscribed “Maccabi Lithuania.”
The Maccabiah is attended this year by some 5,000 athletes and officials from Israel and 44 other countries.
In his speech officially opening the event, President Chaim Herzog of Israel singled out for special welcome the Lithuanian, Hungarian and Yugoslavian contingents.
He also recognized participating countries with so few Jews that their sports delegations consist of no more than a handful of athletes.
Ecuador is represented by three members of a single family. Paraguay, Costa Rica, South Korea and Hong Kong sent one athlete each.
SOUTH AFRICANS POSE PROBLEM
The largest contingent apart from Israel’s is the 520-member U.S. delegation.
According to the Philadelphia-based United States Committee Sports for Israel, the American team will try to top its record-breaking performance at the last Maccabiah in 1985, when the Americans took home 246 medals.
At the end of the official ceremonies, the spectators were treated to a theatrical laser light display, a free-fall parachute jump, and a mass dance and song-and-light extravaganza by 1,600 members of the Young Maccabees.
With the sports competition in full swing Tuesday, Maccabiah officials had a thorny problem to resolve involving Jewish athletes from South Africa.
International sports regulations do not permit South Africa to be represented by an official national delegation or to march with a South African flag.
As a consequence, the South African team marched around the stadium in a “rest of the world” delegation.
But the games’ organizers must decide what to do about South African athletes who entered events as private individuals.
The International Sports Federation does not recognize any event in which a South African participates.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.