Like many of you I’ve been watching lots and LOTS of Olympics for the past two weeks. I love the Olympics. My wife loves the Olympics. My kids love the Olympics, and are now obsessed with sports like water polo and beach volleyball, which I don’t think they’d ever heard of before the competition.
The Olympics first entered into my sports consciousness in 1988 when they took place in Seoul, South Korea. I remember sneaking extra minutes watching volleyball before running out the door to make the bus to school and, since I was a geography nerd, getting excited to see random countries participating in the various competitions. Since then, in Olympics after Olympics, something has always provided an enduring memory, a magical moment, or a transcendent performance.
- Barcelona, 1992: The Dream Team’s historic gold medal in men’s basketball.
- Atlanta, 1996: Kerri Strug’s one-footed landing and Michael Johnson’s otherworldly 19.32 in the 200 meters.
- Sydney, 2000: Australian aborigine Cathy Freeman won the 400 meter dash in a moment that brought all of Australia together and an equally incredible medal ceremony that helped to heal the wounds of the historic mistreatment of the Aborigines by the Australian government.
- Athens, 2004: The US men lost in basketball and Gal Fridman won Israel its first ever gold medal
- Beijing, 2008: Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals and the coronation of Usain Bolt
This year’s games have not disappointed. The ascendance of Missy Franklin, the record-shattering medal count of Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt’s repeat 100-meter dash gold are just a few of the highlights of this Olympiad, which concludes this weekend.
But the defining moment of the games thus far, for me, had a decidedly Jewish twist. And while I’ve got nothing particularly insightful to add about Aly Raisman’s tour-de-force at the London Olympics, it is worthy of a little anecdote.
Last Tuesday night, the USA women’s gymnastics team was on the cusp of winning the team gold medal for the first time since 1996 and only the second time ever. With one floor routine left in the competition, Needham and Temple Beth Avodah of Newton’s own Aly Raisman was all that stood in between Team USA and Olympic glory.
Performing to the music of Hava Nagila, Aly Raisman completed her routine almost flawlessely, ensuring the gold medal for the USA.
After her final tumbling pass, Aly still had to finish her routine, but the hard part was over and the gold medal was clinched. As she completed her routine and the music concluded, tears were already brimming in her eyes. When the music did end, the tears flowed, the gold was theirs, and history was made, all to the tune of an old Ukrainian folk song that somehow became a Jewish wedding and Bar Mitzvah anthem. (You can catch that at the 1:14:50 mark of this video),
In the aftermath of her team gold medal, and her bronze and gold medals in the individual balance beam and floor routine competitions, Aly made no secret of her Jewish pride or of her desire to honor the memory of the Israeli athletes who were killed at the Munich Olympics with her victory.
While other Jewish athletes have excelled at the London Games, Aly’s performance will be one which many of us will never forget.
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