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Ultimate Guide to Team Aus at the 2019 Pan-Am Games

Posted: 04-Jul-2019 by PanAm Games 2019

After 16 months of preparation, Australia’s largest-ever delegation is ready to descend on Mexico City for the 14th edition of the Maccabi Pan-American Games.

The record contingent, numbering 137 in total including an experienced team of support staff will see athletes compete in 11 sports across each of the junior, open and masters categories. They’ll join 3700 Jewish competitors hailing from 23 nations in marching into Mexico City Arena when the Games kick off.

Helmed by General Manager Sam Gamsu and Deputy Team Managers Giselle Berlinski and Simone Cohen, this Aussie team has come together through an undercurrent of sheer hard work by a group of dedicated volunteers. While Barry Smorgon OAM will add to his incredible Maccabi CV by taking on the role of Head of Delegation.

The Junior Football team

This iteration of the Games marks a rebirth for Australia at the event, having sent just six representatives to Chile four years ago, and reflects an ever-growing communal desire to compete for Maccabi internationally.

Within this huge group there are numerous stories of inspiration, dedication and hard work as our athletes revel in an opportunity that for some represents the pinnacle of their sporting careers.

Some attend with a wealth of experience, while others are tasting a spectacle of this nature for the first time. For the first time in 16 years, Australia brings juniors to the Pan Ams, offering an opportunity to blood some young Jewish talent ahead of another highly anticipated edition of the Maccabiah Games in Israel in two years time.

The Pan American games true selling point is a team atmosphere that allows a communal sense of celebration within the Aussie team. The type of special adventure that bonds a group for life.

Among this group are some amazing stories, even before they write new ones over in Mexico.

Golfers Michael Diamond and Harry Procel 

We’ve got a slew of Maccabi veterans, lured back once again to compete for their nation. The small but experienced golfing crew sees Maccabi legend Harry Procel – a two-time former Maccabiah Head of Delegation – return to hunt a third successive masters crown. Alongside him will be team manager and good mate Michael ‘Dixie’ Diamond who will compete at his second PanAms, 20 years after his first.

In table tennis, Sam Parasol OAM will get a start a remarkable 15th international Maccabi event as he takes to the court with long-term playing partner Raymond Rosen. Parasol is looking forward to competing in a new setting having never ventured to Mexico City, and will have the pleasure of being joined among the Aussie ranks by grandson Joel – a member of the junior football side.

But the elder statesman of the team is found in masters tennis. The iconic Bert Rosenberg, ranked number 1 in his division, will pull on the green and gold once again, aged 87. He’s so legendary among Maccabi circles, that competitors from other nations have been inquiring as to whether they’ll see him in Mexico!

Contrastingly, the tennis cohort is also home to one of the most promising newcomers of the squad. Young gun Alex Placek, also ranked number 1 will attend his first Maccabi Games, but the ATP-ranked teen comes well equipped having already competed at a number of international tournaments and will certainly be one to watch.

There’s also top tier talent on show in the Games’ most gruelling event – the Maccabi Man - with duo Alan Kaplan and Daniel Rifkin set to show their world class pedigree once again. Both have been training a ridiculous 12-times-a-week in the lead-up to the Games as they look to add to their Maccabi hauls.

MacMen competitors Alan Kaplan (L) and Daniel Rifkin (R)

Both picked up multiple medals at the Maccabiah Games in 2017, while Rifkin can also count himself among the world’s top 200 triathletes after his exploits at the World Championships on the Gold Coast last year.

They’ll put their bodies to the test across a triathlon, open water swim, cycling time trial and half marathon in the hope of bringing home the gold.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of new stars on offer in the pool, with gifted trio Gabi Goodridge, Ben Potash and Zak Levine arriving fresh off representing at the national championships. Goodridge is a name you’ll hear plenty throughout the Games, with Gabi’s parents Daniella and coach Anthony also set to compete. For the first time, the first family of Maccabi swimming will all be on pool deck together in a special family moment.

The swim squad also features masters headliner Barry Carp, a prodigious talent who netted a bronze medal at the World Masters Championships back in 2017. In the same year, he competed against Olympic gold medallist Anthony Irvin at the Maccabiah Games, having opted test himself in the opens category at 50 years of age. He currently holds a total of 12 state and national records.

Elsewhere, Australia will field an impressive three basketball teams.

The Open Men's Basketball team with manager Susannah Swiatlo

The Open Men’s team sees the culmination of a five-year project in Victoria with a group borne out of a program designed to prepare Jewish youth for senior basketball. Remarkably, the team could just about field a starting five from the same family as four De Bortoli brothers - Hudson, Mackenzie, Bailey and Noah - take to the court side-by-side.

Meanwhile, the youth outfit spawned an amazing selection tale after unfortunately losing their co-captain to injury just weeks before boarding the plane. Facing a race against time, a perfect replacement was found in just 48 hours.

Both teams will also be boosted by seriously impressive sideline presences. Youth coach Warrick Giddey boasts over 450 appearances in the NBL, while his Open’s equivalent Al Westover is rated one of the top youth coaches in the nation and won two NBL championships with the Melbourne Tigers.

The Junior squad have been working tirelessly as they prepare to represent their nation for the first time. Hailing from different schools and states, they’re a reminder of the strength of a shared Jewish heritage.

But we’ve saved the most touching story for last.

Our Junior Football team, comprising a group of youngsters from Victoria who play their football for Maccabi Caulfield FC, will surely be getting support not only from back home, but also from above.

Junior Footballer Mark Shvartsman

Midfielder Mark Shvartsman tragically lost his father on the sideline of one of his junior games three years ago and understandably took time away from the sport as a result. But having re-joined Maccabi and fallen back in love with the game, Mark goes on his first international football trip.

His mother is certain, his dad would be so very proud.

These incredible tales are just the beginning, the real story will be written on the sporting fields of Mexico City as this talented group of Aussies show what they’re made of.

Make sure to follow their journey as they do the green and gold proud.