Reunified J'lem attracts unprecedented numbers to 8th Maccabiah

maccabiah 88 (photo credit: )
maccabiah 88
(photo credit: )
The eighth Maccabiah was the first to be held in an Israel with a unified Jerusalem. The excitement stemming from Israel's victory in the Six-Day War two years earlier attracted an unprecedented 1,450 athletes from 27 countries to the country for the 1969 games. All of the athletes visited the Western Wall and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus for the first time - two places that were inaccessible to Israelis and visitors to Israel from 1949 to 1967. The Maccabiah Torch Relay began at the Tombs of the Maccabees in Modi'in for the first time as the tombs had been too close to the Jordanian border for such an action to be safe. US swimming superstar Mark Spitz returned for a second Maccabiah, winning several gold medals for himself and the American team a year after winning a pair of golds at the Mexico City Olympics. This same year, basketball player Tal Brody, who played at Maccabiah for the first time in 1965, made aliyah and led the Israeli basketball team to victory over the Americans. The event showcased the growing professionalism of many of the sports at the games - TV revenues became a factor, governments began looking at sports as a way of promoting their countries and performance-enhancing drugs became a staple for many athletes who began training at increasingly young ages. Maccabiah organizers became worried about the growing chasm between amateur participants playing for fun and professionals who made their money from athletics. The concern led to an evaluation of athletic performances at Maccabiot and organizers discovered that Jewish athletic prowess was deteriorating worldwide and that Israel was not investing enough in its own delegation.