2020 Olympics in Toyko
(Wikimedia Commons)

A Much More Complete List of Diaspora Jews at the Tokyo Olympics. More Medal Winners, Too!

Every two years, since 2002, I have poured over rosters of Olympics-bound teams (other than Israel) to find the Jewish athletes. It is a time-consuming and often difficult task.  I would find about 80% of the Jewish Diaspora athletes going to the Olympics. I knew I was finding around 80% of them because just about the time the Games were ending, I would receive my copy of Jewish Sports Review (JSR) magazine. The JSR “Olympics issue” would inevitably have everybody I “had” and about 20% more.

My Olympics article usually came out about week before the Games. The JSR Olympics issue was usually mailed to subscribers a day or so before the Games began and the JSR would not share their list with me until the Olympic issue was in its subscribers’ hands.

This year, now-resolved health problems prevented me from putting in the time and effort to find these athletes.

The biggest Jewish media outlet, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), issued a number of articles on the Olympics about a week before the Tokyo Games began. It was wider coverage than they had in prior Olympics, and a number of writers were credited.  Still, I thought something was amiss when their list of Jewish Olympic athletes had only eight names (excluding Israeli athletes and Diaspora Jews playing for Israel).

I sent the JTA list to the two editors of Jewish Sports Review. Long story short: the JSR Olympics issue lists 22 Jewish athletes from the Diaspora.

A JSR editor told me this year they mailed their Olympics issue out early to their subscribers, and I am now free to share their findings. I am doing that here.

But, after the JSR list, do read the fascinating story of the Jewish Sports Review, which is unquestionably the best source on who is Jewish in pro and amateur sports down to the high school level. Trust me, it’s a really cool, Jewish story.

Just below is the JSR list of Olympics-bound Jewish athletes from countries other than Israel. To be clear, the JSR also lists the Israeli team members. The hardest thing is what they do: finding out who is Jewish besides Israeli team members.

Many of you have read the JTA articles. For your convenience, I have asterisked the names the JTA mentioned, so you can quickly see “who’s new.”  I have also annotated the list to note how the athlete performed at the Games (as of Aug. 3).  This list is not exactly as it appears in the JSR.  I have reduced their biographical copy. “Google” an athlete for more info.

As I write this, Jewish Diaspora athletes have won one gold medal and three bronze medals. Not bad for Diaspora Jews, who number less than 10 million people—even if the definition of a Jew is “liberal.”

The List

Americans:

BasketballSue Bird, who at age 40 is the oldest player in the WNBA and the longest tenured having played for 20 years with the Seattle Storm. Syosset, N.Y. native. * (US team unbeaten as of Aug. 2)

Sue Bird
Sue Bird drives the ball during the women’s gold medal game between the United States and Spain at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 20, 2016. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Beach Volleyball –  Alexandra “Alix” Klineman, 31, from Manhattan Beach, Calif., was a four -time All-American at Stanford U. This is her first Olympics. * (Quoting UPI, Aug. 3: US. women’s beach volleyball stars April Ross and Alix Klineman are now two wins away from their first Olympic gold medals after defeating Germany in the quarterfinals on August 3)

Alix Klineman
Alix Klineman digs the ball in the final of the AVP San Francisco Open, July 9, 2017. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

EquestrianAdrienne Sternlicht, 28, from Greenwich, Conn. She competes in the Show Jumping division of Equestrian, She earned a team gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. This is her first Olympics. (No results as of evening of Aug. 2.)

Fencing Eli Dershwitz, 25, from Boston, Mass., Eli earned a #1 national ranking in the sabre in February 2018 and a #1 world ranking in July 2018. This is his first Olympics. * (He lost in the “round of 16” individual competition and the U.S. team was eliminated after two losses to other countries).

Eli Dershwitz
Eli Dershwitz prepares to compete at the Zeta Fencing Club in Natick, Mass., June 14, 2016. Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Jacqueline “Jackie” Dubrovich, 26, from Paterson, N.J. She got a medal (foil) at the 2019 Pan-American Games. She will be competing in her first Olympic Games (She was eliminated in the first round of the individual competition. The team lost their first match, won their second, and were eliminated with a third match loss).

Jack Hoyle, 27, from Philadelphia, Pa. He won a bronze individual medal for Epee and a gold for Team Epee at the 2018 Pan-American Games. He is currently ranked #1 in the U.S. for the epee and #12 world ranked. This will be his first Olympic Games. (He lost in the first round of the individual competition and the team was eliminated in their second-round match).

Nick Itkin, 21, from Pacific Palisades, Calif. Nick won a gold medal for the foil at the 2018 Jr. World Championships, won NCAA championships in 2018 and 2019 while at Notre Dame and is currently world ranked #7 for the foil. (He was eliminated in the second round of the individual competition. However, the US foil team defeated Japan for the bronze medal, and Itkin is a bronze medal winner).

Nicole Ross, 32 from New York, N.Y. Nicole competed in the 2012 Olympics finishing 25th in the Individual Foil and 6th in Team Foil. Nicole and her teammates won the Team gold in the 2018 World Championships. (She was eliminated in the second round of the individual competition. The US foil team played for the bronze medal against Italy and lost.)

GymnasticsJeffrey Gluckstein, 28, from Red Bank, N.J. He competed in the Trampoline division of men’s gymnastics. He is is a 7-time U.S. champion and won a silver medal in the men’s individual event at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. Jeffrey is a first time Olympian. (He did not survive the qualifying rounds).

Track & FieldSam Mattis, 27, from East Brunswick, N.J.  Sam took first in the discus at the 2019 Outdoor U.S. Track & Field Championships. This is Sam’s first Olympics (Mattis is the son of an African-American father and a white, Jewish mother. An Ivy League grad, he gave up a lucrative offer to work on Wall Street to train for the Games. He finished 8th at the Tokyo Games).

Other Countries

Argentina

TennisDiego Schwartzman, 28 from Buenos Aires. Diego has captured 4 ATP singles titles and in October 2020 reached his highest world ranking of 8th. This will be Diego’s first Olympic Games. * (He lost in the 3rd round of the singles competition and he lost in the first round of the doubles competition).

Diego Schwartzman
Diego Schwartzman celebrates during a match against Alexander Zverev at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Nov. 18, 2020. TPN/Getty Images
Australia  

Jessica Fox, 27, an Aussie born in France, competes in the women’s canoe slalom. She earned a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the K-1 women’s slalom. * (She won a bronze medal in the kayak competition and a gold medal in the canoe competition. She got lots of coverage after she posted a video of how a condom was used to secure a gooey substance that fixed a cracking problem at the nose of her canoe).

Jessica Fox
Jessica Fox of Team Australia competes during the women’s kayak slalom semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics. Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Nathan Katz, 26, Judo, 66KG. Katz and his brother, Josh, were both in the 2016 Games. Due to qualifying problems, brought on by restricted travel due to Covid, Josh did not make the Tokyo team and Nathan was added to the team at the last minute. He lost to Israeli SHMAILOV BARUCHA in the second round of competition).

Jemima Montag, 23, from Melbourne, who competes in race walking, won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the 20K race walk. This will be Montag’s first Olympic Games. * (Event not held yet).

Jemima Montag
Jemima Montag celebrates her gold medal in the Women’s 20km Race Walk Final at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia, April 8, 2018. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Steve Solomon, 28, from Sydney is a sprinter who specializes in the 400m Dash. He represented Australia in the 2012 London Olympics. (As I write this, Solomon advanced into the 2nd round, having finished 2nd in his first heat. In his second heat, he finished third and had a chance to advance based on his time versus others. Complicated).

Canada  

Sharon Fichman, 30, who resides in Toronto, plays singles and doubles tennis but mostly doubles in recent years and will play doubles in Tokyo. Her highest world ranking in doubles was #31 in May 2021 and #77 in singles in May 2014. (Lost in first round of the doubles’ competition).

Shaul Gordon, 27, who was born in Tel Aviv but now resides in Montreal, is a fencer specializing in the Sabre. In the 2019 Pan American Games, he earned a bronze medal in the sabre. This is his first Olympics. (Lost in first round of competition)

Eli Schenkel, 28, who was born in Los Angeles, CA, but now resides in British Columbia, is a fencer specializing in the Foil. He captured 2 team medals at the 2019 Pan American Games. Like Gordon, he is a Olympic Games rookie. (Also lost in first round of competition)

Samantha Smith, 29, born in Toronto, trains in Vancouver. She is a trampoline gymnast who won a bronze for Team Trampoline at the 2019 World Championships. * (She finished 13th in the qualifying round and did not advance to the final).

Italy  

Camila Giorgi, 29, was born in Macerata, Italy, and currently lives in Pisa. This veteran tennis player reached a career high world ranking of #26 in 2018. This will be Camila’s first Olympic Games. (She won her first three singles matches and made it to the quarterfinals, where she, sadly, lost to another Jewish woman: Elina Svitolina, from the Ukraine. See below).

Japan

Avi Schaefer, 23, was born in Osaka and holds dual US-Japanese citizenship. The 6:10 center and Georgia Tech graduate has played for the Japan national basketball team since 2016. As the host country, Japan automatically qualified for the Japan Olympics. * (Japan lost its first three games and was eliminated from the competition).

Avi Schafer
Avi Schafer of Japan in action during a training session at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China, Aug. 31, 2019. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Ukraine

Elina Svitolina, 27, was born in Odessa, Ukraine Republic, and reached a highest ranking in world tennis of #3 in September 2017 and again in September 2019. This will be Elina’s first Olympic Games. (She won the bronze medal. Quoting Olympics.com: “Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina is leaving the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 with a bronze medal in the women’s singles. Svitolina fought back to beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and win Ukraine’s first ever Olympic tennis medal.”

Footnotes:

Tennis/American – Sofia Kenin, 22, from Pembroke Pines, Fla. She was born in Moscow, Russia). After being named to the U.S. Olympic women’s tennis team, Sofia decided to decline the honor because she was not permitted to take anyone with her. Not included in the “22” count above.

Two JTA Olympics articles have said that Russian Olympic team member Lilia Akhamikova, 24, is Jewish. An artistic gymnast, Akhamikova just won a gold medal in the vault event.

Bottom line: there were no Jewish details in the stories about her and there are other reasons to question her identification as Jewish. She may or may not be Jewish.

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