Tag Archives: Jewish Olympians

Jews of the Week: Keleti and Gorokhovskaya

Gorokhovskaya and Keleti

Agnes Keleti (b. 1921) was born in Budapest and was Hungary’s national gymnastics champion by age 16. Shortly after, World War II began, forcing Keleti to go into hiding. Much of her family, including her father, were killed in the Holocaust. Keleti┬ásurvived by posing as a Christian villager. After the war, she began training once more, but had to overcome injuries that prevented her from competing. Determined to go on, she qualified for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and won 4 medals, including a gold. Keleti returned to the Olympics in 1956, winning 6 more medals, 3 of which were gold. Being 35 years old at the time made her the oldest-ever gold medal winner in her sport. Her ten total medals makes her among the most decorated female athletes of all time. She also won at the 1954 World Championship. After the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956, Keleti immigrated to Israel, where she still lives today.

A very similar story is that of Maria Gorokhovskaya. Like Keleti, she was born in 1921 (in Ukraine) and took up gymnastics at a young age. After surviving the war, she also competed at the 1952 Helsinki Games, winning 2 golds and 5 silvers. Her 7 medals in one Olympiad is still a world record. Like Keleti, Gorokhovskaya won at the 1954 World Championships, too. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, she made aliyah to Israel in 1990. Both Keleti and Gorokhovskaya have been inducted in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In addition, Keleti has been inducted to the Hungarian and Gymnastics Halls of Fame.

Words of the Week

Everything that is for the sake of God should be of the best and most beautiful… When one feeds the hungry, one should feed them of the best and sweetest of one’s table. When one clothes the naked, one should clothe them with the finest of one’s clothes.
– Maimonides

Jews of the Week: Spitz, Torres, Lezak & Leibovitch

World’s Best Swimmers

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz – Greatest Olympian

Jews play an illustrious role in swimming history. One of the early greats was California Jew Mark Spitz, who began his career at the 1965 Maccabiah Games, winning 4 gold medals. The 1972 Munich Olympics were his shining moment, winning an incredible 7 gold medals while setting 7 new records. This added to the 2 gold medals he’d already won in the ’68 Olympics. Mark Spitz was famously the only one to swim with a mustache (which would later inspire Michael Phelps). He has been voted “Athlete of the Century” and “Greatest Olympian”. Meanwhile, Dara Torres is considered the greatest female swimmer in American history. She’s competed in 5 Olympic Games and has won a staggering 12 Olympic medals. In Beijing 2008, Torres set the record for being the oldest swimmer in Olympic history. She still managed to win 3 silver medals. Born to a Jewish father, Dara converted to Judaism officially before marrying Israeli surgeon Itzhak Shasha.

Keren Leibovitch

Keren Leibovitch

The 2008 Olympics also saw Jason Lezak win a breathtaking relay, ironically earning Michael Phelps an 8th gold medal and thus breaking Mark Spitz’s long-time record. Like Spitz, Lezak is a Jew from California who captains the US swim team and has 7 Olympic medals under his belt. Lastly, and most heroically, is Keren Leibovitch. While serving in the IDF, she had an accident that rendered her legs 90% paralyzed. She became a Paralympic swimmer, winning 4 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze medal over her career, plus 3 World Championships and 3 world records. She has the distinction of being the greatest Israeli Paralympian of all time.

Words of the Week

A single action is better than a thousand groans.
– Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch (1860-1920)