- Israel fields its largest Olympic delegation ever
- Half the Jews on U.S. Olympic team are from California
Andrea Murez stepped on the diving board and adjusted her goggles. Swinging her long arms, she propelled herself into the water at the Wingate Institute athletic complex in Netanya, Israel.
Murez was training for the Rio Olympics, where the 24-year-old Los Angeles native will represent Israel when she hits the pool on Aug. 6. A human biology major at Stanford, she swam for the strong Stanford team before immigrating to Israel in 2014.
Her coach sees her reaching the semifinals in the 100-meter freestyle. Murez, who will be one of seven Israeli swimmers in Rio — four women and three men — isn’t making any predictions.
“I’m really just focused on swimming a personal-best time,” she said.
Murez, who stands 6-foot-1, will compete in three additional events in Rio: the 50- and 200-meter freestyle and the 4X100-meter freestyle relay.
She has been excelling in the water since she and her older brother, Zachary, first took up swimming as children at the condo pool of their paternal grandfather, Joe, a swimmer in the 1930s for Hakoach, the legendary Jewish sports club in his native Vienna.
At 7, Murez completed the compulsory 100-meter swim in her county’s junior lifeguard program. She reached the time requirement on her third try.
At a lifeguard’s suggestion, Melanie and James Murez enrolled the siblings in a swim club. Murez was more passionate then about karate. She took lessons six days a week beginning at age 3 at a studio in the same building as one of the synagogues the family attended in Venice, California.
But Murez progressed nicely in the pool. At 12, as a spectator, she attended the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2004 in nearby Long Beach.
“You’re talented. You can make it at 15. Start dreaming,” her coach at Team Santa Monica, Rachel Stratton-Mills, told her there.
Murez competed at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel, her grandfather and parents in attendance, then swam for Stanford. Returning to Israel for the 2013 Maccabiah, Murez set multiple records in the very pool where she practiced last month and was selected the outstanding female athlete at the games.
Her overall Maccabiah medal count: 15, including 10 golds.
But Murez remembers the games as much for how well she was treated by the Israelis, especially in 2013.
“They asked if I could swim here [as an Israeli], which was funny because I’d wanted to,” she said poolside before practice. “It seems like this is the best opportunity for me. I love it. It’s been the best experience. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Murez lives in an apartment on the grounds of Wingate and spends much of her day training. She plans to enroll in Tel Aviv University’s medical school beginning in the fall of 2017, following the next Maccabiah, when she will be representing Israel.
Murez will have plenty of fans in Rio: her parents and brother, along with other relatives, including one from nearby Argentina.
Melanie and James Murez are no strangers to the Olympics. They met just prior to the 1984 Summer Games, when Melanie worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, in charge of interpreters. She recruited James as a technology consultant. Melanie’s all-access pass enabled entry to all venues; she watched some swimming.
“I don’t know if my seats will be as good this time,” she joked.
Regardless of what the ticket says, of course, the view promises to be far better at these Olympics.
“I never thought I’d have a child go to the Olympics, so it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s definitely a cycle and a circle.”
So just how can Murez, who this winter will be inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, reach the 100-meter semis?
Her coach, Leonid Kaufman, estimates that Murez must shave a fifth of a second off her personal best of 54.40 seconds and cut that to 54.0 to qualify for the final. Should that happen, he said, “she’ll be a national heroine.”