Lezak takes to pool as Maccabiah heats up

Plenty of excitement expected in second week with baseball, soccer and rugby finals on tap.

lezak and barnea 248.88 (photo credit: Dror Einav)
lezak and barnea 248.88
(photo credit: Dror Einav)
With the first week of the 18th Maccabiah Games completed, the competition heats up this week with a slew of finals action, beginning with Sunday's star-studded swimming program at Wingate Stadium. US Olympian and gold medalist Jason Lezak will get all the attention - and most likely, more hardware to add to his collection - at Wingate. The swimming competition lasts from Sunday through Wednesday with 6 p.m. start times each day at Wingate. The Maccabiah will be the final warm-up event for 19 of Israel's swimmers ahead of next week's World Championships in Roma. The highlight on Sunday will be the 100 meters freestyle final in which Lezak is expected to claim his first gold medal of the Games, although Israeli record holder Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or might have something to say about that. "I may not be in the shape I was last year at the Beijing Olympics, but I'm in good form and I believe I can come close to my personal best," said Lezak, whose best time of 47.58 seconds was once the American record. Sunday will also see Guy Barnea try and improve on his Israeli record in the 50m backstroke. Barnea claimed the bronze medal in the 50m backstroke at the Universiade less than two weeks ago and was just 56 hundredths of a second away from the world record when he clocked 24.89 in the semis of the event. There are plenty of other intense semifinals games to start the week as well, kicking off with the rugby semis both on Sunday evening at Wingate. Great Britain plays the US at 7 p.m. on Sunday while Israel will play South Africa at 9 p.m. Britain, the US and Israel all went 2-0 during preliminaries. Team GB, however, played in a group with Australia and South Africa, nations where rugby is a more popular sport. The final will be played Wednesday evening at Herzliya Stadium. The US is the clear favorite to take the gold in baseball, which is only in the junior level competition. All four teams - Canada, US, Mexico and Israel - will play in Monday's semifinals, although it would make just as much sense to let the Americans play with the gold medals already around their necks. The US has outscored its opponents 104-14. Overall, Canada has posed the greatest threat to the US, although a minimal one at that. In both victories over Canada, the US run differential was plus-12, the lowest out of any of its opponents. The semifinals will be played at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m at Sportek in Tel Aviv with the final matchup - most likely between Canada and the US - at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile, the futsal competition will begin its knockout stages this week. There are four futsal quarterfinals matchups Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. at Marom Nave. The teams to watch are defending champions Russia as well as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. An Argentina-Brazil final would be the choice of most neutral fans, as the two teams opened the futsal tournament in a tight 2-1 Brazil win. Both countries are known for their ball skills and could make for a dramatic 8:30 p.m. Wednesday final game at Zisman hall in Ramat Gan. After making up for lost time because of permit issues, Baptist Village will be seeing even more softball in the coming days before Wednesday's men's and women's finals. The fight for first place will be close between Canada and the US on the men's side, as the US were narrowly edged by their northern neighbors for a 13-12 loss Monday and lost to Canada again 10-7 on Friday. The two will likely have another meeting at Wednesday's 9 p.m. final in Baptist Village. The US women's softball team, however, hasn't had much difficulty disposing of its opponents, outscoring them by a combined 39-6 scoreline. Expect it to win it all 4 p.m. Wednesday at Baptist Village. The women's basketball final should be a stunning rematch between Israel and the US. Although there are few more games to be played before Tuesday's 8:30 p.m. final game at Metrowest Sports Hall, supporters will be hoping to see part two of the duel between the US and Israel, as the US held on for a 65-62 victory in the first meeting. The men's tournament is a relatively open and it's difficult to tell who will come out on top. Israel, Germany, Russia, Canada, Argentina and the US all have had convincing and impressive victories against tough opponents. Still, the US, Israel and Argentina are the only undefeated teams, and the US margin of victory in their wins have been downright ridiculous. Expect the US to be in Wednesday's 7 p.m. final at Metrowest Sports Hall, but just about any team could meet them there. The finals for men's and women's soccer are Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Kiryat Eliezer Football Stadium and 11 a.m. at Neve Shaanan Stadium, respectively. Every game so far has been a shutout on the women's side, but the US has a tournament-best 32 goals, making them a favorite.