TOP 10 Jewish Olympics Swimmers – Thursday’s Top Ten List

Created by Matthew J. Goldberg, tipofthegoldberg.com

When one thinks of the all-time greatest swimmers, Mark Spitz’s name still comes readily to mind. He and the remarkable Michael Phelps are probably the first two names that many of us think of. While Phelps has smashed many, if not all, of Spitz’s records from 40 years ago, the two are still 1-A and 1-B in my mind. Perhaps, it’s a generational thing, but since the 1972 games happened at a formative time in my youth, the now-62-year-old Spitz’s name and image still comes first for me.

So, what about Jewish swimmers, and more specifically, Jewish Olympics swimmers? While Mark Spitz is to this list what Sandy Koufax would be to a list of Jewish pitchers, there is great competition to earn a spot on this list. Indeed, if one only went back 40 years (to the 1972 Munich Games that Spitz dominated), there have been more than 10 Jewish swimmers who have medaled at least once on the world’s biggest athletic stage.

Even though I can barely run a lap in the kiddie pool, I have great appreciation for those who can power through the water—be it with freestyle, butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke—at amazing speeds and with admirable endurance. In that spirit, I present the Top 10 Jewish Olympics Swimmers of the last 40 years.

Much of the research for this Top 10 came from the website of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, which is based in Netanya, Israel. On its pages is the work of Dr. George Eisen, author and academic, who compiled a comprehensive list of Jewish medalists from the outset of the Modern Olympics Games in 1896.

So, on your mark, get set, let’s take a plunge.

10

WENDY WEINBERG (USA)

Weinberg, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, earned the bronze medal in the 800 meter freestyle in the 1976 (Montreal) Olympics. She also came away with quite a few medals in the Pan American Games (1975) and the Maccabiah Games of 1973 and 1977.

9

BEN WILDMAN-TOBRINER (USA)

Benjamin Marshall Wildman-Tobriner earned gold as a member of the 2008 (Beijing Games) winning 4×100 meter freestyle relay team. He swam the third leg for a unit that briefly set the world record in the event. That record was broken in the finals by, essentially, the same unit (but without Wildman-Tobriner) with JASON LEZAK (stay tuned for more about him) swimming the anchor leg.

8

SARAH POEWE (Germany)

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Ms. Poewe has swum internationally for both her native country and Germany—for whom she earned the bronze in 2004 (Athens) in the 4×100 meter relay. She competed in three events for South Africa in 2000, just missing the podium with a fourth-place finish in one of the events.

7

GARRETT WEBER-GALE (USA)

Weber-Gale, a University of Texas Longhorn by way of Wisconsin, won two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was a part of the winning 4×100 meter freestyle relay (which included Micahel Phelps, and anchored by LEZAK) that edged the favored French team; he also earned a gold in the 4×100 medley after swimming in one of the heats.

Weber-Gale captured the 100 and 50 meter freestyles at the 2008 US Olympic Trials. He became the first American to break 48 seconds in the 100 free, smashing it with a time (since broken) of 47.78.

6

ANDREA GYARMATI (Hungary)

Ms. Gyarmati, a native of Budapest, had two Olympics medalists as her parents: her father, Dezso Gyarmati made his mark in water polo while her mother, Eva Szekely, was a champion swimmer.

Andrea swam in both the 1968 (Mexico City) and 1972 Games, earning a silver medal in the 100 meter backstroke and a bronze in the 100 butterfly at the latter Olympiad. In 1968, at the tender age of 14, she reached the finals in all three of her events. Curiously, she stopped competitive swimming in 1974; she was just 20 years old. She had already won enough national, European and world championships by that time to earn induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995.

5

ANTHONY ERVIN (USA)

Anthony Lee Ervin earned two medals in the 2000 Summer Olympics at age 19, stopped swimming competitively three years later, and resumed training last year with enough success to qualify for the 2012 Games.

In 2000, he captured gold in the 50-meter freestyle as well as a silver in the 4×100 free. The socially conscious Ervin (who holds a BA in English from UC-Berkley and is pursuing a graduate degree there) auctioned off his gold medal on e-bay to benefit survivors of the 2004 tsunami.

4

JASON LEZAK (USA)

Lezak just qualified for his fourth straight Olympiad, earning a spot in the 4×100 relay. One of the greatest relay swimmers to ever swim a lap, he has earned a total of seven Olympics medals, four of them gold.

Already the oldest American male swimmer at the 2008 Games, Lezak tied for the bronze in the 100 meter freestyle, His greatest Olympics moment was swimming the anchor in he 4×100 relay, coming from behind to beat a favored French team that had vowed to smash the Americans, a unit that included the great Michael Phelps. Lezak’s amazing effort helped break the old world record in the event by 3.99 seconds, if only .08 seconds ahead of the French team. The win preserved Phelp’s dream of winning eight gold medals, just nudging Mark Spitz’s iconic seven gold medals at the 1972 Games.

3

LEONID (LENNY) KRAYZELBURG (USA)

Lenny’s story is one of great determination as well as superior training and athletic talent. Born to Jewish parents in Odessa (now Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union), he and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 14. Pushing past financial difficulties and forced to learn a new language in Los Angeles, he commuted long distances to swimming practice by bus and by foot in order to fulfill his goals. The work, obviously, paid off.

Krayzelburg became the top backstroke swimmer in the world by 1999, and set two Olympics records while winning gold in the 100 and 200 (back) at the 2000 Games. He won another gold as a member of the 4×100 relay team, helping the unit set a new world record.

Lenny skipped the 2001 World Championships to swim at the Maccabiah Games; he carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies and went on to win two gold medals there. Three years later, he rebounded from shoulder surgery to capture another gold (in the 4 x 100 relay) at the 2004 Olympics.

2

DARA TORRES (USA)

What is there left to say about a woman who has won 12 Olympics medals— four of each variety, in an age-defying 24-year span from 1984­–2008. And Ms. Torres came very close to qualifying for the 2012 Games, at age 45. The 12 medals ties her for the most by an any American female swimmer.

Here is one more amazing fact about this peerless athlete, who has also modeled and worked as a television anchor. At age 15, she set the first American record in the 50-meter freestyle. 26 years later, she broke the record once again.

1

MARK SPITZ (USA)

He is arguably…still…the greatest performer in the history of competitive swimming. At age 18, he had what (for him) was a disappointing showing at the 1968 Olympics—winning only four medals, two of them gold (for relay events) along with a silver and a bronze in individual events. The world had yet to really hear from Spitz.

At the Munich Games, the California native won seven gold medals—four for individual events and three in relays. As if that wasn’t enough, he set world records in all seven events. Tragically, he was escorted from the Games just hours after his last gold medal, due to the tragic slaying of 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympics village by Palestinian terrorists.

Among many other distinctions, Mark Spitz is a three-time World Swimmer of the Year, a Sullivan Award winner (awarded to the top U.S. amateur athlete) and a ten-time gold medalist at the Maccabiah Games. In the year 2000, Sports Illustrated magazine named Spitz No. 33 on its list of the “Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century.” Just imagine if swimming was celebrated more in this country.

Well, on that golden note, that concludes this list of the Top 10 Jewish All-Star Baseball Players. As always, feel free to share and to comment below. If you have a suggestion for any future lists, please also comment below or send me an email.

Matthew J. (call him Matt) Goldberg will be presenting a Jewish-style Top Ten list every Thursday on this site. For information about Matt’s books, sports columns, speaking events and requests for appearances and custom writing, please visit www.tipofthegoldberg.com, or contact him via email. His new Facebook Fan Page (“to like, to like, l’chayim”) can be found here.

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Matthew J. Goldberg About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew

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  1. Mirek says:

    Matthew J. Goldberg,
    Time to add Chase Kalisz to this outdated list.

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