The Rio Olympics open on Friday, Aug. 5 and more than half of the (confirmed) American Jewish athletes are from California.
Swimmer Anthony Ervin, 35, will compete in 50-meter freestyle. He currently lives in Valencia, where he was raised, but he also has lived in Berkeley. As an 18-year-old U.C. Berkeley freshman, he won the gold medal in the 50 free at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and then two golds in the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. Awesome, right? But as he has said in hindsight, he just couldn’t handle the fame, and from that point until 2007, his life spiraled 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, 19-year-old identical twins, are the daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants. They grew up in Carlsbad and their parents still live there; however, at age 12, they moved 2,000 miles away from home to train at a top facility (they lived with a guest family near Chicago). At the Pan Pacific Games last year, Monica and Jennifer won three medals, including a silver in group all-around, and their five-person team nailed down its spot in the Rio Games at last year’s world championships (Monica is a full member and Jennifer is an alternate).
Merrill Moses, who will turn 39 during the Games, is one of three goalies on the U.S. men’s water polo team, but it looks as if he’ll be the starter. In his two previous Olympics, he came home from Beijing in 2008 with a silver medal, but London in 2012 resulted in a disappointing eighth-place finish. A bar mitzvah boy, he grew up in Palo Verdes Estates and he still lives in Southern California. Moses, who is 6-foot-3, was a Pepperdine University water polo star who played professionally in Europe. His parents now live in Manteca, and Moses celebrates Passover at their home. His father, Dr. Max Moses, is an orthopedic surgeon with an office in Tracy. His aunt, Sandi Bohner, ran the now-closed Little Valley Winery in Livermore.
Josh Samuels, 25, is also on the U.S. men’s water polo team. His position is driver, a person who tries to get open near the goal, catch a pass from a teammate and score. Samuels was a star on the UCLA water polo team who graduated in 2013 and has since played professionally in Europe. Though he was born and raised in Orange County, his family has lived in the Bay Area. His sister, Angela, 30, was born in San Leandro, and his mother, Elizabeth Kugler, 63, was born in Alameda County and played softball for U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis.
Featured in last week’s J., Zack Test, 26, will compete on the U.S. rugby team. Test is a Redwood City resident who went to Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City and Woodside High School in Woodside. Among his teammates is Nate Ebner, 27, who plays for the NFL’s New England Patriots. To read more about Test, visit www.jweekly.com/article/full/78095.
Here is my list of other confirmed Jewish athletes slated to compete in Rio de Janeiro — minus the members of the Israeli squad, which is fielding its largest-ever Olympic delegation (48 qualifiers in 17 sports).
Australia: Jessica Fox, 22, kayak single canoe slalom. The French-born athlete won the silver medal in this event in 2012. Nathan Katz, 22, and Josh Katz, 18, are brothers and judo athletes. Canada: Josh Binstock, 35, and Sam Schachter, 36, are partners in beach volleyball. New Zealand: Jo Aleh, 30, women’s sailing (470 dinghy). She won the gold in this event in 2012. United States: Eli Dershwitz, 20, individual men’s saber fencing, and Aly Raisman, 22, women’s gymnastics. Raisman won an individual gold medal in floor exercises and a team gold medal in 2012 in London.