The Rio Olympic Games begin Friday. Here are mini-bios of confirmed American Jewish athletes. Following that, here’s a list of confirmed Jewish athletes from other countries other than those on the Israeli team.
ELI DERSHWITZ, 20, individual saber fencing. This Boston native, a Jewish summer camp veteran, has just finished his sophomore year at Harvard. He has a decent chance at a medal based on outstanding performances at international competitions during the last two years.
NATE EBNER, 27, rugby sevens. Ebner now is most famous for his outstanding special team play with the NFL Boston Patriots, but he was also a top high school rugby player. He inquired about playing rugby in the Olympics this past April, and while the coach was skeptical, Ebner surprised him with his play and game smarts. He made the team, which is given a good chance to medal. Rugby sevens is a modified version of traditional rugby (7 players per side, instead of 15; two 7 minute halves, instead of two 40 minute halves). This increasingly popular sport is making its Olympic debut. As I noted when Ebner was in the Super Bowl, his late father, a businessman, was also a Jewish Sunday school principal.
Swimmer ANTHONY ERVIN, 35, will compete in the 50M freestyle race. A Southern California native, he was an 18-year-old U.C. Berkeley freshman when he won the gold medal in the 50M race at the 2000 Olympics. However, as he’s told the press, he just couldn’t handle the fame. From 2001-2007, his life was out of control. But he pulled himself together, returned to Berkeley, finished his degree, and began training again. He made the 2012 Olympic team but didn’t medal.
Rhythmic gymnasts MONICA and JENNIFER ROKHMAN are 19-year-old identical twins. They are the daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants. The twins spent part of their childhood near San Diego, and their parents still live there. However, like many talented young gymnasts, in 2010 they moved to Illinois to train at a top facility near Chicago, where they live with a host family. Last year, the twins won three medals, including a silver medal in the group all-around, at the Pan American Games. Also last year, they secured Olympic berths when their team performed well at the World Championship of rhythmic gymnastics. (Monica is a full team member, and Jennifer is an alternate.) This sport, which is most popular in Eastern Europe, has evolved in recent years as the scoring has begun to emphasize athletic prowess. By the way, the novelty of identical twins has already led NBC to highlight the sisters on their website.
MERRILL MOSES, who will turn 39 during the Games, is the goalie on the U.S. water polo team. This is his third Olympics. His team won the silver medal in 2008, but didn’t medal in 2012. Moses, who had a bar mitzvah, grew up near Los Angeles. He was a swimmer in high school, but he was relatively slow. Then a coach persuaded him to try water polo where the 6’3” Moses’ height and long arm span would be great assets. Moses was a college water polo star and played professionally in Europe, where water polo is very popular.
Gymnast ALY RAISMAN, 22, the biggest Jewish Olympic star since MARK SPITZ, thrilled Jews worldwide by winning the gold medal in the individual floor exercises as the music of “Hava Nagila” played in the background. This Massachusetts native also helped lead the 2012 squad to a team gold medal in her sport.
JOSH SAMUELS, 25, is a driver on the U.S. water polo team. A driver tries to get away from his defender, position himself on the perimeter of the goal, catch a pass from a teammate, and score. Samuels is a very good driver and was a star player on the UCLA water polo team. He graduated in 2013 and has played professionally in Europe. Samuels, like Merrill Moses, is from Southern California.
ZACH TEST, 26, competes on the American rugby sevens team. He grew up in a nice suburb near San Francisco. He played both rugby and football in high school and at the University of Oregon. Test is a superstar in his sport and that — along with his good looks — earns him media coverage in unexpected places, like this February’s “GQ.” He played rugby for the U.S. team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Other countries: AUSTRALIA: JESSICA FOX, 22, canoe slalom (“K-1”). She won the silver medal in this event in 2012. Both her parents are canoeists who competed in the Olympics — her father for the UK and her mother for France. Her mother won the bronze in 1992. Aussies NATHAN KATZ, 22, and JOSH KATZ, 18, are brothers and judo athletes. CANADA: JOSH BINSTOCK, 35, and his team partner, SAM SCHACHTER, 36, play beach volleyball. NEW ZEALAND: JO ALEH, 30, women’s sailing (470 dinghy). She won the gold in this event in 2012. Her father is Israeli and her mother, a Brit, served in the Israeli army.
California-based Nate Bloom can be reached at Middleoftheroad1@aol.com