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Monday, August 30, 2004

Take That, Mr. Miresmaeili

At the beginning of the Olympics I blogged about Iran's flag carrier, Arash Miresmaeili, who dropped out of the games (he was favored to win a gold medal in his weight class in judo) because he was scheduled to face an Israeli athlete in the first round. His conduct, and that of his country's Olympic federation, was as transparent in its base anti-Semitism as it was plum awful.

Israel, in terms of the Olympics, is best remembered for the darkest hours in Olympic history, the cold-blooded murder of its athletes and coaches in the Olympic village in Munich in 1972. Mention the 1972 games, and most Americans remember three things: the murder of the Israeli athletes and coaches, the 7 gold medals of Mark Spitz (a Jewish American) and the royal screwing the U.S. men's basketball team got in the game against the Soviets that cost the U.S. a gold medal. And the latter two seem trivial against the pointless loss of innocent, vigorous young lives.

Most curiously, the Olympic movement never paid any tribute to those fallen athletes and coaches. The 1972 Olympic games didn't stop, they moved on. (In fact, former Olympic titan Avery Brundage, head of the IOC, was not only instrumental in no tribute being paid to the Israeli martyrs, but also was instrumental in the Berlin games in 1936 for pulling Jewish sprinters Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, later better known as the voice of the New York Jets, off the track team so as not to offend Hitler). The Israeli athletes weren't going to get any tribute from Brundage, and by the time he was sent packing, Munich had become a distant memory.

Israel isn't a big country, and it's problems are well known and much argued on other blogs. There are about 3 million people in the country, and they are passionate about their basketball. On a few occasions, their best hoops team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, has won the European Championship. A few players, most notably Nadav Henefeld and Doron Sheffer, played very ably for UConn. But the Israeli national team hasn't made it to the Olympics, and usually the Israelis are good for about one bronze medal every four years in a sport that doesn't get much air time.

Except this year, when Gil Fridman won a gold medal in windsurfing, beating a close friend, a windsurfer from Greece. A relatively young man in his 20's, Fridman accepted his medal on behalf of those who were killed in Munich in 1972 and for whom a proper tribute, Olympic style, had not, to date, been made.

And, perhaps, a proper tribute still has yet to be made, but Gil Fridman did the next best thing. He went out there and proved that he was the best in his world in his sport. A gold medalist.

To the great joy of his countrymen. To the great pride of Jews everywhere.

And Arash Miresmaeili went home to Tehran, perhaps to the congratulations of an authoritarian regime, most of whose subjects try to avoid their government as much as is humanly possibly, but to the derision of much of the world's sporting community, who are wondering what in the world was this guy thinking?

They should mint a medal to commemorate fates that rival those of Sisyphus and Tantalus, such as those of Arash Miresmaeili.

And they should make it out of lead.


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