American swimmer Anthony Ervin (center) poses on the podium with fellow medalists, Israelis David Gamburg (left) and Alexi Konovalov, after winning his first gold medal of the 20th Maccabiah last night, finishing first in the 100-meter freestyle final at the Wingate Institute.
(photo credit: ITAMAR GREENBERG)
American Olympic champion Anthony Ervin claimed his first gold medal of the 20th Maccabiah in the first day of the swimming events at the Wingate Institute on Sunday.
The 36-year-old finished first in the 100-meter freestyle final in a time of 49.76 seconds, beating Israeli David Gamburg to the wall by seven hundredths of a second.
Israeli Alexi Konovalov was third in a time of 50.78s.
Ervin, a native Californian now living in Florida, is the biggest name competing at this year’s Maccabiah. He captured a pair of gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio in two swimming events: the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter relay. The victories were a near repeat of his gold and silver medals in the same events at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Ervin, who has also won two golds and one silver World Championship medals, sat out competition for nearly nine years, until 2012, but returned to the top of the Olympic podium at the age of 35, making him the oldest individual Olympic gold medal winner in swimming.
“I put my heart into the finish,” said Ervin, who revealed that he intends on competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. “I didn’t expect to win. The Israel team is really strong and they are all preparing to go to the World Championships in Budapest this summer so for them this is just a tuneup. It feels good to get underneath 50 seconds which is not something I ever do easily.”
Ervin also spoke about the Maccabiah experience as a whole.
“This is not like anything I’ve ever experienced,” he noted. “I’ve been to the Olympic Games and this is a little different. Lighting the Maccabiah flame in the opening ceremony is something I will never forget.”
Andrea Murez defended her title in the women’s 100m free, but this time she won as an Israeli rather than an American. Murez registered a time of 55.15s.
“I wanted to go under 55 seconds, but this is still a good time and a new Maccabiah record,” said Murez, who moved to Israel from the US in 2014.
The judo competitions also got under way on Sunday, with Olympian Gili Cohen the star of the first day, winning the gold medal in the under-57kg event.
Meanwhile, the son of Brazil’s legendary soccer player Ronaldo is part of the Brazilian delegation to the Maccabiah. Ronaldo’s son Ronald, 17, is not Jewish. But he is a member of Brazil’s under-18 soccer team participating in the games, the so-called Jewish Olympics.
A record 10,000 athletes from 80 countries will be competing in 43 sports at the world’s third-largest sporting event, according to organizers.
Ronald has also been a member of Sao Paulo’s Hebraica, a type of club popular across South America that functions as a cross between a Jewish community center and a country club.
“Ronald and his mother Milena have been full members of Hebraica club for years,” said Avi Gelberg, who presides over both the Maccabi organization in Brazil and the Hebraica club in Sao Paulo. “They have also been approaching Judaism more and more.
“We didn’t have a full team in this category, so we decided to reward the kid by inviting him.”
Milena, an ex-model who also is not Jewish, is a member of the Sao Paulo Hebraica women’s soccer team. She holds the women’s record for soccer ball juggling, or keeping a soccer ball off the ground, with over 55,000 touches.
Eligibility rules for Maccabiah competitors vary from country to country. Some delegations require athletes to be Jewish according to strict interpretation of religious law, while others have more liberal rules.
Ronaldo, 40 – not to be confused with Portugal’s current soccer star, Cristiano Ronaldo – is widely considered to be one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
A three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldo in his 1990s prime was known for his dribbling speed, creative ball moves and prolific goal-scoring ability.
In 98 matches for Brazil’s national team, he scored 62 goals, the second most in Brazilian history behind another icon, Pelé.JTA contributed to this report.