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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Sunday he wants to move the Maccabiah Games opening ceremony from Ramat Gan's National Stadium to Jerusalem in 2013.
Barkat was speaking at a reception in his office for a group of top Maccabiah Team USA athletes, which included three time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Jason Lezak.
Lezak will compete in the swimming competitions at the 18th Maccabiah Games which begin on July 12, with the opening ceremony to be held the following day.
The only time the opening ceremony was held in Jerusalem was during the 16th Maccabiah in 2001, when the Games welcomed far fewer numbers of participants than usual due to the Intifada.
However, the mayor said he believes it would be a "smart" move to hold more events in the capital.
"Right now there is a big crowd at the opening ceremony which is a great sign. Hopefully within four years we can upgrade [Teddy] Stadium to enable us to have the opening ceremony here and many more of the competitions here in Jerusalem," Barkat stated. "It is a goal the government shares with us. It can be done and hopefully it will be done."
Only two of the more than 30 sports at this summer's Maccabiah will be played in Jerusalem - the tennis and taekwondo events.
Lezak, who arrived on Friday for his first ever trip to Israel, said he has already got into his training routine here, getting up at 6:30 a.m. in time to be in the pool at 7 a.m. each day.
Although the competitions won't be on the level of the Olympics, he is treating them seriously and going all out to win golds for his country.
"I hope I can swim fast and hopefully win some medals for the USA," Lezak said.
"This is a first time opportunity for me. I've never been around so many Jewish people at a competition before so I'm really looking forward to it. It's a different kind of situation it's going to be fun and interesting."
Meanwhile, in related news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a participant's accreditation for the Maccabiah Games after Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting, attended by chairman of the organizing committee Itamar Herman as well as other Maccabiah officials.
"I once could have competed at the shot put," Netanyahu joked.
"The Maccabiah unifies the Jewish people and strengthens the connection between the Jews of the Diaspora and the State of Israel."
Also attending the reception with the Jerusalem mayor on Sunday was Team USA basketball player Dan Grunfeld, the son of former New York Knicks player and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld.
Grunfeld, who plays for Spanish top division team C.B. Valladolid, was enthusiastic about the US's chances at the Maccabiah.
"We respect all of our opponents and were excited to get out there and compete and have a good tournament," he said of his team, which is headed by University of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.
"Bruce has been great. He's a very good teacher of the game and has created a good atmosphere," Grunfeld added.
General Chairman of Maccabi USA Ron Carner was sure his team will be the favorite in a majority of the events, but stressed the seriousness of the competition.
"Don't diminish the accomplishments of the Australians and Canadians. I mean these guys worked very hard. They're all aiming their slings and arrows at the USA and Israel," Carner said.
"But there are terrific athletes from all over the world. Everybody takes it seriously. This is not a jamboree, it is a very serious athletic competition which serves another purpose and that is to bring worldwide Jewry together."
With over 900 athletes, the US delegation represents the second largest team at the Maccabiah, second only to Israel.