On the first day Israel was shunned, on the 12th it won gold

August 26, 2004

Israel's first Olympic gold

CONTENTS

1. Remembering Moshe Weinberg, 33, just married
2. "They wanted to kill us but instead we won the gold"
3. Even mentally impaired Israelis are boycotted by Moslem states

 



[Note by Tom Gross]

As Joe Posnanski writes below:

On the first day of the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Israeli team walked into the Olympic Stadium to icy silence and boos.

On the third day, an Iranian judo star did not make weight rather than fight an Israeli, but no other disciplinary action was taken against either him or the Iranian Olympic Committee.

On the sixth day, Ankie Spitzer, widow of murdered Israeli fencer Andrei, spoke at a ceremony honoring the 11 who died in Munich in 1972. Only about 200 people showed up, many of them Israeli athletes.

On the 12th day, Gal Fridman became the first Israeli to ever win an Olympic gold. The anthem played, and Israelis waved flags, and Fridman then dedicated his medal to the 11 athletes who were murdered in Munich.

Tom Gross adds:

Referring to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Fridman said yesterday: "I'm sure they're watching us. We think about them all the time. They're always on our mind. When I get home, I will go to the memorial place for them in Tel Aviv and show them the gold medal."

The BBC, which used to call the terrorists terrorists, now describes the perpetrators of the Munich massacre as "militants" (see, for example, "Athens 2004 Remembers Munich 1972," By Mathew Davis, BBC News Online, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3581866.stm)

In Athens, an extra fence protects Israel's 36-athlete delegation in the Olympic Village compound, and the Shin Bet secret service watches over the team.

But Israelis are celebrating. Today Yediot Ahronoth, the biggest newspaper in Israel, dedicates the first seven pages to the gold medal.

I attach three articles (the first two from today), with summaries first:

 

SUMMARIES

REMEMBERING MOSHE WEINBERG, 33, JUST MARRIED

"Waves of joy" (By Joe Posnanski, The Kansas City Star, August 26, 2004).

"... Wednesday evening, under a golden Greek sunset, in an amphitheater by the Saronic Gulf, the Israeli flag was raised in triumph for the first time at the Olympics. Gal Fridman had won a gold medal in windsurfing. All around him, people waved Israeli flags and chanted. In Israel, people cried. It was the first-ever Olympic gold medal for Israel.

"What does it mean?... Moshe Weinberg was an Israeli wrestling coach. He was 33 years old and had just been married. On Sept. 5, 1972, at the Munich Olympics, terrorists from a group called "Black September" knocked on his door. He shouted for others to run and was shot in the cheek. A few moments later, he jumped on the back of a terrorist who was shooting at wrestler Gad Tsabari. Weinberg was then shot and killed. His body was dumped out on the sidewalk as proof that Black September meant business...

"Joseph Romano was a weightlifter born in Libya. He was coach and manager of the Israeli team. On that fateful day in September, he tried to hold the door so others could escape. He was shot, and he later died from the wounds... David Berger was a lawyer, born in America, who moved to Israel so he could become an Olympic weightlifter. Eliezer Halffin was a 24-year-old wrestler born in the Soviet Union. Ze'ev Friedman was a gymnast first, then a weightlifter. Andrei Schpitzer was 27 and was spending his life teaching fencing in Israel. Amitsur Shapira, 40, was perhaps the country's greatest ever short-distance runner in his youth, and then the track and field coach. Yaakov Springer was a weightlifting referee. Joseph Gottfreund was a weightlifting referee. Kahat Shor was the oldest at 53 years old… Mark Slavin was 18 years old..."

 

"THEY WANTED TO KILL US BUT INSTEAD WE WON THE GOLD"

"Olympics finally a source of great joy for Israel" (By Ian O'Connor, USA Today, August 26, 2004). [This article was also widely distributed on Yahoo sports.]

"... It was 8:04 p.m. in the small amphitheater when the public address announcer read these historic words: "Ladies and gentlemen, the national anthem of Israel." On cue, two young Athenians dressed in white, Panayiotis Mitrou and Kostas Leontaritis, sent up Israel's flag to the sounds of Hatikvah, the Hebrew word for hope. "We're very proud to do this for Israel," Leontaritis would say. "Every country should be treated the same."

Yes, the same. What the Israelis would give to be treated the same. What they would give for Iranian athletes to compete against theirs, fair and square, rather than forfeit as a means of declaring Israel a counterfeit state.

What the Israelis would give to negotiate their compound without the top-secret agents, the extra fencing, the heavier legacy of blood spilled and dreams stolen in the night.

"When you come to the Olympics," said Zvi Varshaviak, president of Israel's Olympic Committee, "you remember the 11 that the terrorists killed (in Munich). Now they want to kill us, and we show that we are here, and we have the gold medal."

... [At the opening ceremony] as the Israeli delegation entered Olympic Stadium here during opening ceremonies, a cold hush swept over the crowd. But Wednesday night, there was nothing cold or hushed about a ceremony on the shores of the Saronic Gulf. "It's a gold medal for all the people of Israel," Fridman said. "We think about the people who were trying to do their best in sport and were murdered, and we hope that this will never happen again." The Israelis sang and cried and danced. Thirty-two years too late, a proper Olympic tribute was paid to their dead..."

 

EVEN MENTALLY IMPAIRED ISRAELIS ARE BOYCOTTED BY MOSLEM STATES

"And Nobody Cries Foul: An Olympic competitor boycotts Israel, with impunity" (By Franklin Foer, The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2004).

"The Olympic Games are, of course, more than just games. As the event's organizers constantly remind the world, they are a festival of humanity, a great coming together, the one moment when the planet gathers in a friendly spirit of healthy competition. Dogging your viewing of pummel-horse routines and synchronized diving, there is ample talk of the "Olympic movement," a phrase intended to highlight these aspirations. Last week, however, as the Athens Games got under way, an Iranian judo champion exposed the hollowness of this rhetoric. Rather than compete against an Israeli, Arash Miresmaeili quit the Olympics entirely.

... Under Olympic protocol, such ad hoc political boycotts are forbidden... They fly in the face of everything the Olympic movement proclaims about sportsmanship and fellowship... The Iranians will apparently pay no price for their transgression...

Unfortunately, this is a typical tale. Israel continually suffers sporting boycotts, and officials, Olympic and otherwise, continually turn a blind eye toward this injection of politics into sport... Even the mentally impaired have suffered this exclusion. At last year's Special Olympics in Ireland, both Saudi Arabia and Algeria refused to play Israel in soccer and table tennis.

... Sport can bring nations closer… Arabs play for Israeli clubs like Maccabi Haifa and even represent Israel in international competitions.

... International sports bureaucrats, it should be remembered, turned a blind eye to Uday Hussein's treatment of his athletes...

[Tom Gross adds: (1) Since the article was published, the International Judo Federation ruled that politics had not played a role in the disqualification - and that there would be no sanction against the Iranian team.

(2) This is part of the official listing for Israel on the Athens Olympic 2004 website: Capital: Tel-Aviv. Continent: Europe.]

 

SOME SATIRE

An anonymous commentator writes:

"I wonder how Das Independent – sorry I mean al Guardian – will cover the story tomorrow regarding the first Israeli gold medal?

"OLYMPIC STADIUM, ATHENS -- As Palestinians suffered at the checkpoints, windsurfer Gal Friedman won Israel's first Olympic gold medal. He turned the winners' platform into occupied territory to the sounds of a national anthem that has little meaning to Israel's 20 percent Arab minority. His medal was won in windsurfing – a sport that takes place on water, which is a substance that Palestinians have too little of..."

Up next: The Palestinian team takes home the gold in suicide bombing...

 



FULL STORIES

WAVES OF JOY

Waves of joy
By Joe Posnanski
The Kansas City Star
August 26, 2004

First-ever gold medal gives Israel something to celebrate, a positive Olympic memory in the face of '72 tragedy

ATHENS, Greece — Wednesday evening, under a golden Greek sunset, in an amphitheater by the Saronic Gulf, the Israeli flag was raised in triumph for the first time at the Olympics. Gal Fridman had won a gold medal in windsurfing mistral. All around him, people waved Israeli flags and chanted "Hail, Hail, Israel." In Israel, people cried.

It was the first-ever Olympic gold medal for Israel.

"What does it mean?" asked Israel's IOC member, Alex Gilady, the man who wrapped the gold medal around Fridman's neck. "It means everything."

Moshe Weinberg was an Israeli wrestling coach. He was 33 years old and had just been married. On Sept. 5, 1972, at the Munich Olympics, terrorists from a group called "Black September" knocked on his door. He shouted for others to run and was shot in the cheek. A few moments later, he jumped on the back of a terrorist who was shooting at wrestler Gad Tsabari. Weinberg was then shot and killed. His body was dumped out on the sidewalk as proof that Black September meant business.

They cut into regular television programming Wednesday in Israel. "We won!" newscasters shouted out on every channel. On the radio, there was no music playing. There were only disc jockeys trying their best to describe what Gal Fridman had done, what he had accomplished, how it made them feel.

At Yediot Ahronoth, the biggest newspaper in Israel, they planned to dedicate the first seven pages of the paper to the gold medal.

"I can't believe he won," Gal's mother Dganit told reporters in the moments after people surrounded her house. "I am still waiting for him to tell me."

Joseph Romano was a weightlifter born in Libya. He was coach and manager of the Israeli team. On that fateful day in September, he tried to hold the door so others could escape. He was shot, and he later died from the wounds.

On Wednesday, Gal Fridman was whisked from interview to interview, camera to camera, and he seemed overwhelmed by it all. He was asked, more than once, to comment on the quirky fact that his name "Gal" is Hebrew for "Wave."

"That's some name for a windsurfer," he was told time and again.

"Yes," he said.

Then, when asked what this gold medal meant to his country, he said simply: "I'm very proud to do this for Israel. Very proud."

David Berger was a lawyer, born in America, who moved to Israel so he could become an Olympic weightlifter. Eliezer Halffin was a 24-year-old wrestler born in the Soviet Union. Ze'ev Friedman was a gymnast first, then a weightlifter. Andrei Schpitzer was 27 and was spending his life teaching fencing in Israel. Amitsur Shapira, 40, was perhaps the country's greatest ever short-distance runner in his youth, and then the track and field coach. Yaakov Springer was a weightlifting referee. Joseph Gottfreund was a weightlifting referee. Kahat Shor was the oldest at 53 years old. He was the shooting coach.

All of them were killed on that day in September.

After the flag was raised, and the Israeli national anthem "Hatikvah" ("The Hope") played, Israelis rushed the medal stand. They wanted to have their photos taken with Gal Fridman. They wanted to hug him. They shouted "Yofi" meaning "Wonderful," and "Mazel Tov," which does not translate well to English. It means something deeper than "Congratulations."

Their joy overpowered the amphitheater. In a corner, there were several serious-looking security guards who were looking for a way to get Gal Fridman out. Not far away, were soldiers ready to seal off the area. When it comes to Israel, nothing is safe.

"This is very special," Gilady would say. "But we know this cannot change the big things. It is still very difficult in Israel. This only brings a little bit of joy."

Mark Slavin was 18 years old. He was the best athlete of them all. Just that year, he had won the Soviet Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships. He had come to Munich with dreams of winning a medal. They told him he was young and would have other chances. He died at the airport along with the eight other Israelis taken hostage. In all, 11 Israelis died. Three members of Black September survived. They never faced trial.

On the first day of these Olympics, the Israeli Olympic team walked into the Olympic Stadium to icy silence. On the third day, an Iranian judo star named Arash Miresmaeili did not make weight rather than fight an Israeli, Ehud Vaks. Miresmaeili was suspended, but no other disciplinary action was taken against either Miresmaeili or the Iranian Olympic Committee. On the sixth day, Ankie Spitzer — widow of Andrei, the fencer, spoke at a ceremony honoring the 11 who died in Munich. Only about 200 people showed up, many of them Israeli athletes.

"For families of innocent victims," Spitzer said. "it seems like only yesterday."

On the 12th day, Gal Fridman became the first Israeli to ever win an Olympic gold. The anthem played, and Israelis waved flags, and soldiers made certain no one got too close. Fridman then dedicated his medal to the 11 athletes who were murdered in Munich 32 years ago. He said he would go to the athletes' memorial in Tel Aviv.

"I'll go," he said, "to show them the gold medal."

 

OLYMPICS FINALLY A SOURCE OF GREAT JOY FOR ISRAEL

Olympics finally a source of great joy for Israel
By Ian O'Connor
USA Today
August 26, 2004

sports.yahoo.com/oly/news;_ylc=X3oDMTBpcmc2NWVyBF9TAzI1NjY0ODI1BHNlYwNvZQ--?slug=usatoday-olympicsfinallyasourceo&prov=usatoday&type=lgns

With a half moon rising behind him, and an orange sun plunging beneath the Saronic Gulf before him, Gal Fridman stood where no Israeli man or woman had ever set foot. He was on top of an Olympic platform, on top of the world, when the anthem started playing and the people started crying and the 32-year-old memory of 11 murdered athletes and coaches finally climbed up a Summer Games flagpole for everyone to see.

It was 8:04 p.m. in the small amphitheater when the public address announcer read these historic words: "Ladies and gentlemen, the national anthem of Israel." On cue, two young Athenians dressed in white, Panayiotis Mitrou and Kostas Leontaritis, sent up Israel's flag to the sounds of Hatikvah, the Hebrew word for hope.

"We're very proud to do this for Israel," Leontaritis would say. "Every country should be treated the same."

Yes, the same. What the Israelis would give to be treated the same. What they would give for Iranian athletes to compete against theirs, fair and square, rather than forfeit as a means of declaring Israel a counterfeit state.

What the Israelis would give to negotiate their compound without the top-secret agents, the extra fencing, the heavier legacy of blood spilled and dreams stolen in the night.

"When you come to the Olympics," said Zvi Varshaviak, president of Israel's Olympic Committee, "you remember the 11 that the terrorists killed (in Munich). Now they want to kill us, and we show that we are here, and we have the gold medal."

Israel's first gold medal in any Olympic sport. Fridman won it Wednesday in windsurfing, the men's mistral, before jumping into the water and emerging to say that he won the race for countrymen who died before he was born, countrymen taken by hooded and masked Palestinian terrorists who would fly them out of the Games and into their graves.

"I hope that they are happy up there," Fridman said. "When I return to Israel, I'll go to the memorial place to show them the gold medal."

Fridman didn't weep on the highest Olympic stand. He was too busy smiling, scanning the crowd, and singing the anthem while wearing his nation's blue and white flag as a cape, the Star of David resting against his back.

Hundreds of Israeli witnesses weren't nearly as composed. Men and women waving their flags sobbed as they sang along with Fridman. The venue operators played the anthem at a faster pace than it was meant to be heard, leaving the Israelis struggling to keep up. A simple rookie mistake: Olympic officials had never before played this song.

The anthem ended at 8:06, and the party began. Horns blared in the stands. Delirious fans chanted, "Hey, hey, Is-ra-el." Greek fans had come to celebrate their silver medalist and caldron lighter, Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, but they were outdone by the Israelis bent on turning the ceremony into a bar mitzvah.

The fans couldn't remain in the stands with their cameras. No, they rushed the podium and joined Fridman on gold-medal ground. Somehow, some way, half of Tel Aviv danced with the champion on a platform meant to hold one stationary adult.

Security officials were powerless against this flood of fans. Their manic attempts to gain control around Fridman spoke to the sense of permanent crisis engulfing the Israelis, as did the ultra-thorough bag checks performed at the venue's gates. Uniformed Greek soldiers even marched in to form a protective wall between Fridman and the reporters armed with notebooks and microphones trying to interview him.

Ultimately, fear would strike out.

"An amazing event," said Yossi Shabi, a flag-waving Israeli fan. "This is a time for all of Israel to come together. With so much war going on, this is a time to celebrate history."

And a time to honor the past.

"This is a great way to make a tribute to the Munich victims," said Baruch Ingberg, a 48-year-old Tel Aviv resident. "But I don't believe Olympic officials will ever mention it in opening ceremonies. It's not fair, but they won't do enough for the victims' memories. This is the world. You have to be Israeli to understand."

Fridman understood. The Israeli team had made a pre-Games pilgrimage to the Tel Aviv monument to those slain in Munich. For too long, Olympic officials have tried to wish away their worst hour, refusing even to admit that the choice to resume the '72 Games was a horrible mistake.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, a member of the Belgian sailing team at the Munich Games, spoke at a memorial service here last week, finally showing the respect for the victims his predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch, never showed.

"I don't get into politics," Fridman said. "I don't understand that stuff. ... The only thing I can want is, I would love to bring peace to Israel. The fight (should) stop in the water.

"If you fight someone, fight him in sport to prove you are better, not in different ways. This is our job as athletes, to show the other side of the Israeli people. We want peace. All of my friends I know want peace."

Fridman talked of a Turkish friend he called "my Muslim brother," a friend who in turn called Fridman "my Jewish brother." The windsurfer whose first name means "wave" in Hebrew couldn't understand the decision by Iran's world judo champ, Arash Miresmaeili, to refuse to compete against Israel's Ehud Vaks. Fridman couldn't understand how Iranian president Mohammad Khatami could say Miresmaeili's forfeit should go down "in the history of Iranian glories."

"Only (Miresmaeili) is losing," Fridman said.

Israel was winning yesterday, its streets overflowing with first-place spoils. Israeli president Moshe Katsav and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon called Fridman about the mass hysteria he had inspired back home.

"(Sharon) said the whole country stopped for two hours at noon when the racing starts," Fridman said. "Everyone was watching everywhere - in the cafes, the restaurants, stores and houses. Everyone was just watching TV and waiting for the gold."

Fridman almost wasn't around to give it to them. A bronze medalist at the '96 Atlanta Games, he quit the sport for two years after failing to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Games.

He made a comeback just in time to give his 56-year-old nation its greatest sports achievement in a country known for its pro-Palestinian bent. As the Israeli delegation entered Olympic Stadium here during opening ceremonies, a cold hush swept over the crowd.

But Wednesday night, there was nothing cold or hushed about a ceremony on the shores of the Saronic Gulf.

"It's a gold medal for all the people of Israel," Fridman said. "We think about the people who were trying to do their best in sport and were murdered, and we hope that this will never happen again."

The Israelis sang and cried and danced. Thirty-two years too late, a proper Olympic tribute was paid to their dead.

 

AN OLYMPIC COMPETITOR BOYCOTTS ISRAEL WITH IMPUNITY

And Nobody Cries Foul: An Olympic competitor boycotts Israel, with impunity.
By Franklin Foer
The Wall Street Journal
August 20, 2004

The Olympic Games are, of course, more than just games. As Bob Costas and the event's organizers constantly remind the world, they are a festival of humanity, a great coming together, the one moment when the planet gathers in a friendly spirit of healthy competition. Dogging your viewing of pummel-horse routines and synchronized diving, there is ample talk of the "Olympic movement," a phrase intended to highlight these aspirations.

Last week, however, as the Athens Games got under way, an Iranian judo champion exposed the hollowness of this rhetoric. Rather than compete against an Israeli, Arash Miresmaeili quit the Olympics entirely. As the jukoda told the Iranian government's official news service: "I refuse to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathize with the suffering of the people of Palestine, and I do not feel upset at all." His one-man boycott earned him encomiums from President Mohammad Khatami. According to reports, the Iranians planned on rewarding Mr. Miresmaeili with $115,000, the purse handed out to gold medalists.

Under Olympic protocol, such ad hoc political boycotts are forbidden. (The prohibitions placed on South Africa's apartheid-era teams, by contrast, were official and the product of international consensus.) They fly in the face of everything the Olympic movement proclaims about sportsmanship and fellowship. Indeed, if the Iranians had owned up to their intentions and the Olympics officials had felt inclined to follow their own rules, the country would have been subject to stiff sanctions.

But facing the prospects of punishment, Mr. Miresmaeili turned coward. Just before his match against the Israeli, he seems to have binged on food, stuffing himself to the point that he no longer fit his weight class, earning an automatic disqualification. Rather than taking Mr. Miresmaeili to task for his stated political stunt, Olympics officials have accepted his highly contrived alibi. The Iranians will apparently pay no price for their transgression.

Unfortunately, this is a typical tale. Israel continually suffers sporting boycotts, and officials, Olympic and otherwise, continually turn a blind eye toward this injection of politics into sport.

Ever since Israel's founding, some Muslim nations have refused to compete against the Jewish state. In 1962, when Indonesia hosted the Asian Games, it chose to officially cancel the event rather than permit Israeli participation. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the boycott intensified and has come to permeate almost every venue. Earlier this year, for instance, Israeli fencers were initially not allowed to attend that sport's world cup in Jordan. Organizers feared that the mere presence of Israelis would cause the entire Muslim world to drop out. (Jordan ultimately caved in to international pressure and invited Israelis.) Even the mentally impaired have suffered this exclusion. At last year's Special Olympics in Ireland, both Saudi Arabia and Algeria refused to play Israel in soccer and table tennis.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia has been one of the leading proponents of the boycott. In 2002, Prince Sultan signed a letter endorsing an Arab Football Federation proposal to ban Israeli competition in all international soccer matches. And when the Saudi Nabeel Al-Magahwi refused to play an Israeli at the 2003 world table-tennis championship in Paris, he became a cause célèbre. "In addition to the great support I received from government officials, residents and expatriates, I have received a special certificate from the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that I'm very proud of," Mr. Al-Magahwi told a news conference.

Even as the Bush administration has applauded Libya's baby steps toward reform, the Gadhafi family has been another boycott stalwart. Earlier this summer, it refused to let Israeli chess players attend the world championship in Tripoli. (Chess's governing body is affiliated with the International Olympic Committee.) Because the colonel's sons are sports fanatics, the country has aggressively lobbied to host other major events. But it dropped its bid to bring the 2010 soccer World Cup to Libya rather than provide the International Soccer Federation with assurances that Israeli players and fans would be granted visas.

This boycott has created a garbled sporting geography. In soccer, for instance, Israel doesn't compete against other Asian teams for a World Cup berth. International soccer officials have placed Israel in the European federation. (For a time, Israel was forced to compete even further afield, in the Oceania division against Australia and New Zealand.) Unfortunately, this means that Israel must beat the likes of Italy and France to make its way to the World Cup--a far fiercer set of opponents than it would face in Asia. Despite having some great players and solid teams, Israel hasn't qualified for the quadrennial tournament since 1970.

But there are good reasons for Israel to play against its Mideast neighbors. On the one hand, the high-toned Olympic rhetoric has truth to it. Sport can bring nations closer. The soccer player Haim Revivo, one of the best Israeli athletes of his generation, has starred for the clubs Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Turkey. He has become nearly as beloved a figure in that Muslim nation as the Jewish one. That's not to mention the Arabs who play for Israeli clubs like Maccabi Haifa and even represent Israel in international competitions.

On the other hand, sports can provide a relatively harmless vehicle for letting off political steam. During the shah's reign, Iran was the one Muslim nation that bucked the boycott. For a time, the masses could go into the stadium and root hard against Israeli teams and athletes. Naturally, nasty slurs echoed through the crowds. But the events may have also helped buy the government leeway to pursue a friendlier policy toward Israel. According to one strand of folklore, the Israelis aided their friend the shah by intentionally losing soccer matches against his teams.

Of course, if international sports officials wanted to, they could easily stamp out the anti-Israel boycott. As punishment, athletes could suffer long bans from competition. In the context of the Olympic movement's gentle treatment of genuine dictatorships, this inaction becomes even more obscene.

International sports bureaucrats, it should be remembered, turned a blind eye to Uday Hussein's treatment of his athletes. During his tenure as head of Iraq's soccer federation, Saddam's son subjected losing players to the worst torture. His goons would drag players across pavement until their bare feet turned raw. Then the players were forced to jump in raw sewage. Even though these human-rights abuses were amply documented, Olympic and soccer officials never really voiced a substantial complaint against them.

Olympic officials, however, have sent Israel a clear message. Two years ago, representatives from various Olympic federations gathered in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for Athens. There were 199 flags, including the Palestinian standard, hanging in the hotel ballroom. Sadly, one was missing.

(Mr. Foer, a senior editor at the New Republic and a contributing editor at New York, is the author of "How Soccer Explains the World.")


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.