I’m not sure how many Jewish Olympians there are, but Aly Raisman is one of them. 18 years old, from Massachusetts. Yesterday, she won the gold medal in the women’s floor event to the tune of Hava Nagila – a classic Hebrew folk song. Well done Aly and hoping for a repeat at the 2016 Olympics.
Aly also won a gold in the gymnastics team event as part of the US team and a bronze in the balance beam event.
This leads me onto another question I’ve been wondering about, how do Jews perform at the Olympics in general? Clearly, sport isn’t a strong area for Jews. If you want to find the Jews in sport, it’s usually the owners of sports teams you have to look at. But, nonetheless, do Jews over-perform or under-perform at sports compared to what is expected?
About 1 in 500 people in the world are Jewish and there are 300 events at the 2012 London Olympics. According to Wikipedia there were approximately 4700 medals produced for this year’s Olympic games (including this year’s Paralympics). Remember, in many events there may be many medals awarded (due to team events) and there are at least three medals for every event. So if Jews were expected to win 1 in 500 medals, we’d only expect them to win 10 medals in total, which I can imagine they probably do (well Aly Raisman has three already).
Looking at things like this however does the skew the picture a bit. We probably shouldn’t be counting large parts of Asia and Africa in our numbers. Jews should probably be winning about 1 in 200 medals (this is totally my own estimate). That would be about 24 of the 4700 medals produced. Do Jews win that many medals? Probably. Doesn’t sound like a lot of medals to win, but I don’t really know.
This discussion is a bit silly though. At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear Jews haven’t done exceptionally well at sport historically and they probably haven’t done exceptionally poorly either.
This discussion does sort of highlight just how small the world Jewish population is. Slightly crazy when you consider all the Jewish success (imagine if Jewish nobel laureates were as rare as Jewish olympic medalists) and how there are people like Ahmadinejad who see the Jews (or the Zionists) as the world’s biggest problem. We’re one five-hundredth of the world’s population. Leave us alone already. I suppose it is quite a complement to be considered so important despite our smallness.
This week Omri Casspi, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA player, uploaded a picture of himself wearing Tefillin to his Facebook page. It’s nice to see a young basketball superstar that earns millions of dollars a year to still be connected to his roots and to still be putting on Tefillin. Ga’avah Yisraelit.
There was another moment like this last year when Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Itai Shechter scored a goal against Austrian football team Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League qualifying rounds. The match was being played in Austria and when Shechter scored Hapoel’s third goal to make the score 3-1, he took a kippa out of his socks, put it on his head and said the Shema in celebration. Shechter was given a yellow card for his celebration, but it was a proud moment for Israel. Shechter wearing his kippa proudly in Austria, a country where many Jews lost their lives during the Holocaust a mere seventy years ago. Hapoel went on to win the game 3-2 and qualify for the 2010 Champions League. Here’s the video of the celebration:
Filed under Israel, Sport
I’m a fan of the game and I’ve been wanting to write about this one for a while. Today, Israeli Boris Gelfand (originally from the Soviet Union) will start a 12-game match against Viswanathan Anand of India for the world chess title and a prize of $1.5 million. Gelfand, currently ranked 22nd in the world, is the underdog, but you never know what will happen. The match will go on for three weeks. You can read more about it at JPost.
There have been many great Jewish chess players. There have been fifteen World Chess champions to date. Six (40%) of them have been Jewish. (And a seventh, Gary Kasparov, rated the best Chess player of all time, had a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother).
28 of the best 64 (44%) chess players of all time have been Jewish (according to a somewhat dated study from 1989). Not a bad record for a people that constitutes 0.2% of the world’s population. The best Jewish chess player of all time was the American Bobby Fischer (who was sadly also a vehement anti-semite and anti-America and anti-Israel).
The 30-year old Israeli chess grandmaster, Alik Gershon, holds the world record for simultaneous chess games. He broke the world record in 2010, which previously belonged to Iran. He played 523 games in a 19-hour marathon. He won 86 percent of his games (he needed to win at least 80-percent to seal the record.) Training for the event was purely physical and included a lot of jogging and swimming, with many kilometres of walking and high levels of concentration needed to play all 523 players. You can read more about this record at The Telegraph.
Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician, former Soviet refusenik and prisoner and human rights activist was also a chess prodigy as a child. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk. When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he maintained his sanity by playing chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.