Tag Archives: Olympics

Jew of the Week: Ludwig Guttman

Founder of the Paralympic Games

Ludwig Guttman (1899-1980) was born to a German-Jewish family in what is now Poland. After serving in World War I, he volunteered at a hospital and first encountered a paraplegic patient. This inspired him to go to medical school and he went on to become a renowned neurosurgeon, specializing in spinal cord injuries and paralysis. He also taught at the University of Freiburg, where he supervised a Jewish fraternity that focused on fitness and physical training to give Jewish students more strength and confidence in the face of rampant anti-Semitism. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed by the Nazis, Guttman was stripped of his job and title. He was given an inferior position at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he eventually became the medical director. During Kristallnacht, Guttman witnessed the desecration of his synagogue and the abuse of his fellow congregants. That night, he admitted 64 Jewish patients that took refuge in his hospital, and was able to save 60 of them from deportation by the SS agents that came the next day. The following year, the Nazis gave him a visa and sent him on a medical mission to Portugal. Guttman never returned to Germany, and settled in England instead. He joined the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in Oxford. Guttman came up with the idea of turning paraplegic patients over in their beds every two hours to prevent bed sores, a small move that drastically cut the mortality rate. In 1943, the Royal Air Force asked Guttman to found and head the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to look after injured pilots who commonly had spinal problems. It was here that Guttman realized how sports could be a powerful tool for rehabilitation. In 1948, he organized the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, a huge success. Four years later, he turned it into an international event, and in 1956 was recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) for his pioneering work. The Stoke Mandeville Games became an official part of the 1960 Rome Olympics, and by 1984 was known as the Paralympic Games. (When host city Mexico refused to hold the games in 1968, Guttman arranged for them to be held in Israel). Guttman founded what would become the English Federation of Disability Sport, as well as the International Spinal Cord Society. He was the first editor of the scientific journal Spinal Cord. The Guttmann Institute in Barcelona is named after him, as is the Ludwig Guttmann Prize awarded by the German Medical Society for Paraplegia. He was the subject of a BBC documentary called The Best of Men, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966. There are currently over 4400 athletes competing at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the largest ever.

Words of the Week

It might seem bizarre, but in my opinion science offers a surer path to God than religion.
Paul Davies, renowned physicist

Russian commemorative stamp of Ludwig Guttman, in its “Sports Legends” series released before the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 

Jew of the Week: Nancy Lieberman

Greatest Woman in Basketball

Nancy Elizabeth Lieberman (b. 1958) was born in Brooklyn, New York. She was passionate about sports from a very young age, and by the time she was in high school, was recognized as one of the best female basketball players in the country. At 17, she was selected for the US National Team, and helped it win the gold medal at the Pan American Games, its first since 1963. The following year, she won silver with the team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the youngest basketball player in Olympics history. Lieberman then led her college team to two championships, and was the first player to twice win the Wade Trophy (for women’s basketball player of the year). To this day, she holds a number of unbeaten records. After college, Lieberman was drafted first overall by the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Pro Basketball League (WBL). She soon became known as “Lady Magic”, the female counterpart to “Magic” Johnson. In 1997, the WNBA was formed and Lieberman played for the Phoenix Mercury, being its oldest player at 39. She then coached and managed the Detroit Shock for three years, before moving on to ESPN to be a basketball analyst. She came back to the Shock in 2008, at the age of 50, to play on a one-week contract, setting a record as the oldest professional basketball player ever. The following year, she became the coach of the Texas Legends (the farm team of the Dallas Mavericks), making her the first female to coach a men’s pro basketball team. In 2015, she became an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, only the second female coach of an NBA team in history. Her most recent achievement was coaching the Power team of the BIG3 league to the 2018 championship. She has also been a contestant on American Gladiators. Her son plays for Hapoel Holon in the Israeli basketball league. Lieberman was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996, and into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Words of the Week

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet 

Jews of the Week: Oren Smadja & Sagi Muki

Judo World Champion

Oren Smadja

Shay Oren Smadja (b. 1970) was born to a Tunisian-Jewish family in Ofakim, Israel. He was the son of Israel’s first judo coach, Morris Smadja, who played a key role in introducing the sport to Israel. Trained by his father, Oren Smadja won his first gold medal in judo at the age of 12. Seven years later, he was Israel’s judo champion. Smadja went on to represent Israel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Three years later, he won the silver medal at the 1995 World Judo Championships. In 2008 he was a participant in the Israeli TV version of “Dancing With the Stars”. Altogether, Smadja won a medal or championship in 14 professional tournaments. He retired after competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and turned to coaching judo full time.

Sagi Muki

One of Smadja’s first students was a four-year old Sagi Aharon Muki (b. 1992) from Netanya, Israel. At the young age of 8 he had to choose to pursue either soccer or judo, and went with the latter. Under Smadja’s tutelage, Muki went on to win the under-20 European Cup in Berlin in 2011. The following year, he was Israel’s judo champion in his weight class, a feat that he repeated in 2013. He continued to win in multiple international competitions, and was ranked second in the world by 2015. That year, he took gold at the European Games and the European Judo Championship. Muki represented Israel at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, he failed to win a medal after severely injuring his spine. Bedridden for months, it seemed that Muki’s career was over. Undeterred, he refused surgeries and instituted an intense healing and training regime. Muki got back into shape and returned to judo at the Grand Prix Tashkent in October 2017. Silencing all of his critics, Muki won gold. Half a year later, he took another gold in the European Championships. Earlier this year, Muki climbed back to the world number 2 spot. Last week he won gold at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, making him the first Israeli world champion. Muki also served in the IDF and carries the rank of sergeant. He takes great pride in representing Israel around the world, and is expected to bring home another gold at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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Words of the Week

Who can challenge the rights of the Jews in Palestine? Good Lord, historically it is really your country.
– Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, Ottoman politician and Muslim scholar (1899)