Raising The Olympic Bar


Alexandra “Aly” Raisman, who entered the London Olympics last week in the shadow of gymnastics teammates Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, stepped into the sunlight this week.


A week after her performance in floor exercise sealed a team gold medal, and a few hours after she won an individual bronze medal in the uneven parallel bars on Tuesday, Raisman won gold in her specialty, floor exercise.

Captain of the “Fab Five” women’s squad, she performed her earlier floor exercise routines in the team preliminaries and finals to “Hava Nagila,” evoking rhythmic clapping from an SRO crowd. She also performed to the song Tuesday in her gold-medal floor performance.

The three-medal performance of Raisman, 18, was a highlight of the Summer Games’ early events, which saw success for Jewish athletes from several countries, but bupkes for the Israelis.

For the first time since the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the Israeli delegation to the Summer Games returned home empty handed.

Following disappointing performances by a series of members of Israel’s 38-member squad, many of them highly ranked in their sports, windsurfer Lee Korzits finished ninth in her final race Tuesday, dropping her from medal contention to sixth place overall.

Other Jewish medal winners at the London Games, which end on Sunday, are:

► New Zealand rower Nathan Cohen, who teamed with Joseph Sullivan to win gold in men’s double sculls.

► Australian kayaker Jessica Fox, who won silver in the slalom, 16 years after her mother, Myriam Jerusalmi, won bronze in the same event in Atlanta.

► American swimmer Jason Lezak, who won silver in the 4×100 freestyle relay, likely closing out, at 36, his storied (eight medals in four Olympics) swimming career.

The events of four other Jewish competitors – rhythmic gymnast Julie Zetlin and water polo goalie Merill Moses from the United States, sailor Jo Aleh from New Zealand, and wrestler Vasyl Fedoryshyn from Ukraine – take place this weekend.

Raisman, a resident of Needham, Mass., last week competed in the pressure-packed anchor position during the final, floor exercise portion of the team event; she received the highest score awarded that night.

“Aly is what you see on TV … gracious, confident, focused,” Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., the Raismans’ congregation, told The Jewish Week in an e-mail interview. “She was the same at her bat mitzvah. She’s a terrific big sister. Her family is very connected to temple and Jewish life.”

The congregation is “ecstatic about her success in London!” Rabbi Stern said. “We feel enormous pride in her as ‘one of our kids.’ We’re hoping to do a welcome home and mazel tov for Aly when she gets home. She will be swamped with various press/media obligations, but we’re scheduling something for sure.”

Raisman, a recipient of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, has said she performs to Hava Nagila, what may be most-recognized piece of Jewish music in the world “because there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there. I like how the crowd can clap to it.”

The poor showing by Israel’s Olympians brought criticism from Knesset member Ronit Tirosh, who chairs the Knesset’s Lobby for the Promotion of Sports in Israel.

“Our current approach doesn’t work,” Tirosh told Haaretz. “In Israeli society, we like to take shortcuts, but Olympic success requires a long-term investment.”

She said that Israeli sports authorities, to groom Olympic champions, need to invest in athletes from a young age like the Soviet Union did.

“Unfortunately such long-term investments are not in the DNA of the Finance Ministry,” Tirosh said. “They need to realize that building Olympic champion is in our national interest. Medal winners are our top ambassadors in the world.”