Olympian moments, in China and America

Not to take anything away from Michael Phelps and his historic gold-medal run, but for Jews, the Beijing Olympiad is memorable for additional reasons.

Jewish athletes are making their mark on the games. We can’t stop kvelling over 41-year-old Dara Torres and her three silver medals. As the oldest swimmer in Olympic history, she has done us proud.

Jason Lezak and Garett Weber-Gale, two other Jewish American swimmers, each picked up a pair of gold medals. Lezak’s breathtaking anchor leg on the men’s 4×100-meter relay will play on highlight reels for years to come.

Israel, too, had its moment on the podium, with windsurfer Shahar Zubari picking up the bronze. Though it wasn’t shown on NBC, Zubari draped himself with the Israeli flag after his award ceremony and took congratulatory calls from Israel’s top leaders.

All this Olympic action coincides with exciting local sports news: Bay Area Jewish teens have been racking up medals in the 2008 Maccabi Games.

In San Diego a few weeks ago, the Contra Costa JCC boys basketball team won gold. So did the flag football and girls basketball teams from the JCC of San Francisco. Rona Lavian, a visiting Israeli athlete competing with the Peninsula JCC, captured gold in tennis, and several other PJCC teens earned medals as well.

Let’s not forget the Albert L. Schultz JCC. Their girls volleyball, girls soccer and boys soccer teams all medaled. At the games in Akron, Ohio, the Osher Marin JCC and Addison-Penzak JCC participated; the latter won a bronze in boys basketball and a silver in tennis.

And as of press time, the JCCSF kids had already won three golds, two silvers and a bronze at the Detroit-area games.

Yet we don’t want to get too medal-crazed. The spirit of competition and challenging oneself to excel are far more important.

What can we conclude from this spate of athletic achievement? For one thing, despite the outmoded social stereotypes, Jewish youth have shown themselves every bit as athletic and competitive as their non-Jewish friends. And in the case of Olympians like Torres and Lezak, we can boast bona fide Jewish sports heroes right up there with the Kobes, Shaqs and Peytons.

It’s just one more indicator that Jews have no limitations in any aspect of American life.

Sport is about the moment, measured in fractions of seconds. But the glory endures beyond the measure of stopwatches. For all our Jewish athletes, we have, in the words of poet A.E. Housman, “stood cheering by/And home we brought you shoulder high.”