By David Wiseman
Growing up in Australia, I was quickly imbued with a love and appreciation of the Olympics. Well known for our massive love of sport, Australia is just one of the very few countries who have participated at every Olympic Games. We even won two gold medals at the 1896 Games.
As I got older, I appreciated it more than just a basic sporting contest. To train day in and day out every day for four years. Devote yourself for a moment that was going to happen in the distant future and then be over in the blink of an eye.
At the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Australia did better, winning seven gold, but I was more excited by the silver and bronze medals Israel won. The two medals were both won in judo – silver to Yael Arad and bronze to Oren Smadja.
A year later, I was actually in Israel when Sydney was awarded the right to host the 2000 Olympics. Beijing was the main rival and Sydney edged them out winning the vote 45-43.
I was fortunate to be able to work at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I was a sports researcher for Channel Seven. It was a dream come true to be able to eat, breath and sleep sport. My job was to know everything about the history of the Olympics, all 10,000 athletes who would be competing and to be on top of everything as it was happening.
Michael Kolganov left it late in winning Israel’s only medal of those games. It was on the final day, which also happened to be the second day of Rosh Hashana.
Four years later the games were back at Athens – the home of the Olympics. Heading into the final race of the mistral, Gal Fridman was in the gold medal position. At worst, he had to finish two places behind the defending champion and local hero Nikolaos Kaklamanakis and the gold was his. His did better than that finishing ahead of him and Israel has their first ever-gold medal at the Olympic Games – an incredible moment that still delivers goose bumps every time I watch it.
I made aliya straight after the 2004 Games finished, and so 2008 was my first summer games in Israel. There was no gold for Israel this time – just a bronze for Shahar Zubari.
A question that people love to throw up is whom would you support if Israel was playing your country of birth?
I love both very dearly – but as a Jew who is Australian, Israel is my spiritual home. There is an amazing feeling of pride in seeing the Israeli flag flutter on a global stage. Think about it. For thousands of years we were homeless. In our darkest hour, there was no Israel that Jews could turn to. The world’s borders were closed to us culminating in ships coming to Israel being turned around at the shores.
Israel became a country on May 14, 1948 and the first post-war games happened in London just two months later – not enough time for Israel to field a team. Four years later we were there and notwithstanding the 1980 boycott have been every time since.
While every country has fond memories of the Games, like always seems to be the case with Jews, ours is tinged with sadness and grief. It’s impossible to talk about Israel at the Olympics without touching on what happened at Munich. That it happened in Germany kicks up the poignancy several more notches.
It was the antithesis of sport and one of the most heinous acts of all time. Anyone who hasn’t seen the Academy Award winning One Day in September – should go see it to really understand what happened.
On that day, the Israeli flags stood at half-mast but they have flown at full mast since and will do so again. It’s a massive accomplishment for an athlete just to compete at the Olympic Games – all the training, sacrifices, and obviously results. Similarly, it’s a massive accomplishment just for there to be an Israel competing at the Olympic Games. There is no Babylon, Persia, or Carthage competing at the Olympics.
We survived, we overcame, and we are here.
About David Wiseman
David Wiseman works in online marketing for Kahena Digital. Originally, from Sydney, Australia, he is a sports lover and worked at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as a sports researcher for the host broadcaster. David was also part of the Australian delegation at the 2003 Pan-American Maccabiah Games and the 2005 Maccabiah Games. Making Aliyah in 2004, David now calls Jerusalem home. He is married and the father of two girls. He is a member of the Israeli night cricket championship winning team.
You can follow David on Twitter @daw1975