Maccabiah Swimming: A special evening in the pool with the Masters

Australia, the United States and Israel dominated, but Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and Russia also make their presence felt in the pool.

swimming 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
swimming 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
For those looking for an event that showcases the true diversity and spirit of the Maccabiah, go no further than Masters swimming, an event featuring athletes from ages 40-70+ racing against others in their age range. The first day of competition featured some highly competitive races. Australia, the United States and Israel dominated, but Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and Russia also made their presence felt in the pool. Swimmers agreed that the level of competition was high, but many were simply excited to be competing in Israel, with athletes from around the world. For many, like Rich Benson of New York, this was their first international competition. "I came for the international competition," he said. "I've never competed internationally, though I have competed at the local and international level for 10 years." This is also Benson's first time in Israel. He said that he had "less expectations about Israel, and then had an incredible experience." For his friend and teammate Burt Zweigenhart, the high level of competition is a definite appeal of the Games - but not what they are ultimately about. "We are all serious swimmers, [and] some of us are former Olympians. There's a lot of good Jewish swimmers out there," he said. "It's not really a competition because [no matter what] a Jew will win," he said, regarding the event. "It's all about brotherhood and sisterhood." Zweigenhart had a very successful day of competition, winning gold in the 200m freestyle in the 55-59 with a time of 2:30.06, and placing second in the 50m butterfly. Along with the first-timers, there were some definite veterans. Moshe Gerbel of Jerusalem has been competing in the Maccabiah since 1965, and won the 400m freestyle in 1969. At both of those Games, he competed with Mark Spitz. He said that he comes to the Maccabiah because "it's here- it's like why people climb up mountains. Because they're there. "I love it," he said, regarding Masters swimming. "There's all of these old timers that keep coming back - like salmon swimming up the river." He sees the Maccabiah as a good competition, with the added bonus of getting to meet and swim against Jews from around the world. "This is it for us, the Jewish people," he said. "We show the world that we are strong, that we are one, that it is beautiful to be a Jew." Jane Katz is another former Maccabiah champion, who has been coming to the games since 1957. This is her Katz's thirteenth Maccabiah- "my Maccabiah bat mitzvah", she calls it. "I probably hold the Maccabiah participation record," says Katz, who is from the United States. "It's a fun thing to be able to say." Though she has held several world records in different age groups, she says that this "one of the more important records" that she has held. She says that she keeps coming back to the games for "the people- you don't feel different... it's nice to be here with friends." Many swimmers call unity and camaraderie their favorite aspect of the games- but four swimmers took the idea even further and formed a hybrid relay team. Todd Phillips and Eddy Lang, Team Canada's only Masters swimmers, joined with Simon Greenberg, the only British competitor, and a swimmer from Venezuela, in order to compete in the 4x50m freestyle relay. Lang has been competing as a Masters swimmer for 20 years, and is also coaching Canada's junior swimmers. This is his first time at the Maccabiah, and he sees the camaraderie of the games as a highlight. "we're all together, training, having a great time," he says. The relay team wasn't planned before the start of the games. "We just said hey, let's put this thing together," he explains. Though the team didn't place, it stands as an example of the unique spirit of the Maccabiah, which manifested itself so particularly at this event.