International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame welcomes new class

Mitch Gaylord speaks of his pride at being honored as one of the best Jewish athletes in history.

maccabiah promotion 248 (photo credit: )
maccabiah promotion 248
(photo credit: )
Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast Mitch Gaylord spoke of his pride at being honored as one of the best Jewish athletes in history on Wednesday as he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in the 30th edition of the ceremony, alongside US Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak and nine others at the Wingate Institute. Gaylord won four medals for the US at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, three years after claiming six golds at the 11th Maccabiah Games in Israel. "It gets more and more meaningful the older I get," Gaylord told The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony. "When you are young it is all about the sports and competing but when you get older and you retire it becomes about the meaning about all of this and hopefully inspiring other young kids to follow their dreams." Other inductees included Ramat Hasharon women's basketball team coach Orna Ostfeld, Paralympic swimmer Keren Liebowitz and American rower Donald Spero. This trip is Gaylord's first time in Israel in 24 years, since he returned to put on a gymnastic exhibition during the 1985 Maccabiah. After collecting his award Gaylord looked back on the time he spent in what he called the "homeland" and the significance of his return. "This brings back the memories from 1981 because we stayed here [at Wingate]. It was my first visit to Israel and it meant much more than just sports. "Since I've been here this time I've got to meet a few of the athletes and we're getting a feel for the whole thing. It's beautiful, it's amazing. The opening ceremony set the tone for the whole competition. To see the faces of the athletes reminds me of how it was for me and I know what they are in for - an incredible time." Lezak, who is continuing his preparation for the swimming competitions, which begin on Sunday, said it was a "tremendous honor" to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. "I've been recognized locally as a Jewish sportsman but to get that internationally is a great feeling," he added. The 18th Maccabiah Games moved into its fourth day on Wednesday with a full schedule of competitions. Once again the striking parity between some of the teams was clearly apparent, with the Australian girl's basketball team's 83-11 mauling of Great Britain just one example. Lezak said he believed the gulf in class is not an issue and he does not intend to slow down to make things fairer. "I'm here to compete and do the best we can. No one wants to see anyone put in 50 percent effort," he said. Maccabiah and Israeli basketball legend Tal Brody, who is a previous inductee of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was in the audience at Wednesday's ceremony and admitted that the large gaps between the skill levels of some teams have to be expected. Commenting on the US men's basketball team's 112-13 demolition of Mexico on Tuesday evening Brody said: "That could happen, they have a very good team. The main is that groups are coming we only wish the scores will be very tight," he said."Not all the Jewish basketball players in the world can be great. But still the fact the teams are coming is a great thing." Reflecting on the afternoon's ceremony, Brody added: "You don't know where you're going in the future until you see where you have been in the past. Seeing new people like Jason Lezak was excellent. He did a great job lighting the sports, he's a great representative." The Hall of Fame does not only honor athletes, as was evident on Wednesday when three prominent American Jewish journalists were inducted. New York Times sports feature writer and columnist Ira Berkow, former New York Post baseball reporter Maury Allen and Jewish sports writer Harold Ribalow were all inducted, as was Major League Baseball's first official historian, Harry Simmons.