Maccabi Athletes on Top Down Under

Joan Waldbaum is not your typical 75-year-old. Not only does she swim to stay healthy, but she just so happens to excel in the sport, and did so during a recent international competition.

"I like to think that I could show young people that, just because you're older, it doesn't mean you're dead," she said. "I love it when 50-year-olds say, 'I want to be just like you.' "

While routinely beating swimmers up to 20 years younger, Waldbaum won four gold medals and a silver at the Maccabi Australia International Games held in Sydney from July 2 to July 10.

The games featured "open" competitions for those over 17, and "masters" competitions for those over 35. The athletes participated in basketball, a duathlon, soccer, golf, field hockey, karate, lawn bowls, swimming, tennis, table tennis and bowling.

The United States sent 157 athletes and coaches to the games, and the competitors returned with 19 medals, second in the overall count to Australia's 61.

The U.S. men's basketball team — made up of college players and European pros — dominated the games, beating Australia by 50 points and Canada by 46 on its way to an undefeated record and a gold medal.

Coach Harris Adler had the team performing a "push" offense in the hopes of creating fast-break opportunities to tire out the opposition. When the coach found the team down 20-16 in the championship match against Canada, Adler stressed defense.

"We started making plays … and made our defense into offense," said Adler, 30, also the head of basketball operations at Philadelphia's La Salle University. His team won the championship game by 40 points.

The competition was a bit tougher in soccer. With just one practice, the U.S. open men's team had to face off against teams that had been practicing together for close to a month, and still they were still able to bring home the bronze.

Jamie Seltzer, a striker and midfielder for the United States, recalled dealing with some tough opposition.

"There were a lot of good teams out there," said the recent graduate of the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr. "We played against a couple of pros playing in Israel and in Australia."

While players like Seltzer see much of their sporting future in front of them, men's masters midfielder Fred Kaplan, 52, was celebrating his last hurrah. Kaplan was an alternate for the 1973 U.S. Maccabi soccer team, but since team members suffered no injuries, he never made it into international competition.

"I knew that my clock was ticking on ability," said the resident of Maple Glen, who has continued to play over the years, and finally made his first Maccabi team this June.

"It's an intense kind of comraderie — like when you go to overnight camp and you're all living in the same bunk," he said.

Since most of the athletes stayed in the same hotel, common areas like the lobby and cafeteria became a great place to meet other Jews from all over the world.

"The elevator was the coolest place because you could say, 'Oh, where are you from?' " said Tara Cohn, 18, a field-hockey player from Wayne. "You meet friends that really do last forever."

"It's always great to meet other athletes, especially when they're Jewish," said Seltzer, who made friends from Australia, Mexico and Germany. "There's a special kind of bond you can share with them above the athletic level."

Members of the masters basketball team even spent a Friday night having Shabbat dinner with a local family after taking in a service at a Sydney synagogue.

With the games being played so far from home, many athletes had to raise money to pay for their flights and accommodations down under.

"Part goes toward the trip and part is a contribution to Maccabi,"explained Philadelphia resident Steve Promislo, 37.

"Overall, it's one of the greatest experiences of my life, and well worth whatever you had to do to get there," he said. "The excitement of international basketball and putting on a USA jersey and fans chanting for the USA is really amazing."
Medal Winners from the Philadelphia Area:

Joan Waldbaum · Masters Swimming · 4 Gold Medals, 1 Silver

Jake Shechtman · Open Men's Basketball · Gold Medal

Ross Condon · Open Men's Basketball · Gold Medal

Harris Adler · Open Men's Basketball (coach) · Gold Medal

Steven Promislo · Masters Basketball · Silver Medal

Tara Cohn · Open Women's Field Hockey · Bronze Medal

Jackie Aronchick · Open Women's Field Hockey · Bronze Medal

Sara Weiner · Open Women's Field Hockey · Bronze Medal

Lindsey Krasna · Open Women's Basketball · Gold Medal

David Brownv · Open Men's Soccer · Bronze Medal

Jamie Seltzer · Open Men's Soccer · Bronze Medal

Courtesy of Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel 




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