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Articles > Olympic Notebook, Part 9: Two Live Jews help bring home the gold!

When Rabbi Akiva stressed the duty of a father to teach his son to swim, he probably didn’t have Olympic competition in mind. But thanks to the effort of two Jewish swimmers (oh yeah, and another guy by the name of Michael Phelps who happens to be a pretty fair swimmer himself) the U.S.A. took the gold in the 4 X 100 meter freestyle relay, and managed to keep alive Phelps’ quest to win eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.

Jason Lezak was truly the hero of the day, starting off the final leg trailing the French swimmer Alain Bernard. Earlier that day, the French team had boasted that they would smash the Americans. After having owned this event for nine consecutive Olympics, the American failed to win gold in the last two Olympic Games.

In one of those “Do you believe in miracles?” moments, the race announcer pointed out that the Frenchman seemed to be tightening up and the Lezak was closing in on him. Then he yelled “Unbelievable!! Lezak has done it! The U.S.A. has done it!” Lezak had edged ahead to beat Bernard and the French team by eight one-hundredths of a second. When it was over, Lezak had swum his 100m in 46.06 seconds, the fastest relay leg in history (although reportedly it does not count as an official record).

“I can’t even explain it,” he recounted afterwards. “It was unreal. I’ve been part of two teams at the last two Olympics that came out behind, and I think I wanted it more than anybody, not just for myself, but to show that we are the nation to beat in that relay.”

NBC commentator and former Olympic medalist Rowdy Gaines said, “This is the greatest relay I have ever witnessed. It’s impossible to put in words what Jason Lezak’s accomplishment means for the U.S. and its confidence.”

The previous evening, the American “B” team swimming the event’s preliminary heat had set a new world record at 3:13.23. The foursome in the final took nearly four seconds off of that 15 hour old record with a finish of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds.

Four years ago, Lezak told the Center for Sport and Jewish Life that he was “looking forward to getting the gold in the 400 freestyle relay back from the Aussies.” It didn’t happen in 2004, but Lezak helped to make it happen in 2008.

With Phelps reported to receive a $1 million bonus if he breaks Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals, some are clamoring for Lezak to get a share of it. (Do people on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” ever share their winnings with the phone-a-friend that gave them the correct answer and kept them in the game?)

Also helping the team effort was Garrett Weber-Gale, a Wisconsin native who swam for the University of Texas, and graduated in 2007. As a youngster, Weber-Gale went to Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI, a summer camp which is part of the camp network of the Union for Reform Judaism, where he was the camp star in the triathlon. Weber-Gale, who turned 23 on August 6, is slated to return to the camp in the summer of 2009 to help dedicate its new aquatic center.

After the victory, Lezak joked to a Jewish journalist present, “Maybe we can set a new world record at the next Maccabiah Games.”

Cullen Jones was the fourth member of the gold-medal winning group.

Of the two other Jewish members of the U.S.A. Olympic swimming squad, 41-year-old, five-time Olympian Dara Torres has received a great deal of press, and has talked about her swimming comeback and her pride in representing the middle-aged population that she has joined. She has noted, too, that she has goggles older than some of her teammates. In her first competition of the 2008 Games, Torres took silver as anchor of the US 4x100 meters women's relay, taking her Olympic total – dating back to the 1984 Los Angeles Games - to ten medals.

The fourth member of the Tribe is Ben Wildman-Tobriner, who swam for Stanford University, where he graduated in 2007 with a degree in chemical engineering. Because Wildman-Tobriner was part of the foursome that swam in the preliminary heats for the 4X100m freestyle relay earlier that day, he, too, will receive a gold medal thanks to the efforts of landsman Lezak.

To all these competitors – and to fencer Sada Jacobson who took silver in the individual saber competition – a hearty mazel tov!!!

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