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From Lag Ba'Omer to Maccabiah competition

Posted: 13-Jul-2013 by Maccabi National

Bows, arrows and Judaism usually only conjure images of bonfires and Lag Ba’Omer celebrations.

But in July 2013, Jeff Holloway will become the first Australian to contest archery at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Jeff, 49, a project manager in Melbourne, is known in the community for his Lag Ba’Omer demonstrations. Thanks to archery's belated introduction as a sport at the Games, Jeff will get to fulfill a burning desire to compete, fuelled 20 years ago by the lighting of the 1992 Olympic flame in Barcelona (with an arrow shot by Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo).

“That was really the most exciting lighting of a torch I’d ever seen – at an Olympics before, or after,” Jeff said.

Watching with former Maccabiah athlete Tony Nash, the pair were entranced; but when Jeff saw a weight lifter from the Seoul 1988 Games compete in the high diving in 1992, it inspired him to get up and try something different himself.

“We looked at each other and said WHAT - in four years he’s been able to go from weightlifting to diving?

“So we started going through all the sports; Tony was a pentathlete, but I couldn’t do any of that stuff.

“That weekend I went out and started archery.”

As time went on, Jeff moved to Melbourne to marry his wife Karen. He continued to shoot at the Moorabbin Archery Club, but stopped once his boys Dion and Roni, who will all be in Israel, came along.

Then, after years of “pestering Harry Procel and Lisa Borowick to lobby the Maccabiah committee”, Jeff learnt of archery’s inclusion at the Games.

Making it to Atlanta might have been a fantasy, but thankfully, finally, Israel is a reality.

“I’ve always had ambition to take the competition further, always dreamed of being able to go to Maccabiah with it,” Jeff said.

“I just had to wait until I was 49 until I did!”

Like riding a bike, Jeff picked up the sport again – although his technique had to be re-modeled due to the way technology changed over his 15-year hiatus.

Jeff competed in the Sydney Metropolitan Championships recently as he prepares for the competition, which looks like being a field of approximately 20 competitors in the recurve bow and compound bow fields, both indoor and outdoor.

Jeff, who is in touch with Jewish archers from around the world via a Facebook group set up by Israel, will compete in the compound bow competition, and is practicing daily to maximise his chances of getting a medal.

So, archery has got Jeff on the plane to Israel. But, how has an Olympic whim become a lifelong passion?

“I was never a real sportsman,” Jeff explained. “Growing up, you play the different sports at school, but there was never a lot I was good at. That was the thing with archery; I was naturally good at it. And it was so enjoyable to play a sport I could succeed at.

“The thing I love about it is the focus - to be able to block everything out and to be able to focus and focus on something within the focus and something within that focus. It is intense.

“I’m a member of a good club with good people and I enjoy their company. People from all different lifestyles come along. You don’t have to be a massive athlete, hyper intelligent, or tall or short – it works for everybody.”

Ahead of the Games, Jeff got to enjoy a one-on-one with James Park, who has coached more Olympic competitors than anyone else.

“It was an absolute privilege ... he made micro corrections to my form that made huge differences straight away ... it was fascinating,” Jeff said. Archery Australia have also supported Jeff, by helping him with his uniform.

The Lag Ba’Omer demonstrations have opened the community’s eyes to the sport, and Jeff added that the success of this year’s festival, with 50-60 youth group members, could see him start a Maccabi archery club when he returns.

“A lot of parents said: my kids have been ostracised for not being particularly athletic form sporting side but they love archery.”

By David Weiner, Team Australia media director

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