Magic in Mexico

Barry Carp at the Pan American Maccabi Games opening ceremony. Photo: Julie Kerbel

THE 10-day Pan American Maccabi Games began last Sunday with a razzle dazzle opening ceremony inside a packed to the brim Mexico City Arena, where Australia’s largest ever team of 138 athletes were proudly led by masters swimmer Barry Carp.

At the time of going to press on day three, many more priceless Aussie memories had already been made, from the football pitch to the basketball court. Australia had won three gold medals, including one earned by flag-bearer Carp.

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Swimming gold medallist Zak Levine (centre) with silver medallists Jade Berson (left) and Gabi Goodridge (right). Photo: Julie Kerbel

A POOL OF POWERFUL PERFORMANCES

AUSTRALIA dived into instant success in the pool at the 2019 Pan American Maccabi Games in Mexico City earlier this week, with its swimming team winning six of Australia’s first seven medals, including two golds.

In a magical moment, just a day after 52-year-old Melburnian Barry Carp led the 138-strong Australian team into a packed Mexico City Arena during a spectacular opening ceremony as Australia’s chosen team captain and flag-bearer, he overcame illness to take his place in the men’s masters 100m freestyle final, and went on to comfortably win it.

The Aussies were out in force at the Pan American Maccabi Games opening ceremony. Photo: Julie Kerbel

He then ran straight from the pool deck to the nearby basketball stadium within the vast Mexico City Jewish Communal Centre complex – still dripping wet in his swimming togs – missing out on his own gold medal presentation ceremony so that he could watch his son, Harry, play for Australia in a youth boys’ match against Mexico.

Australia’s team general manager Sam Gamsu took Carp’s place for the medal ceremony, and then, quite remarkably, Carp told Gamsu he could keep it.

“I said to Sam, there’s no-one that I think is more deserving of a gold medal, with the organisation that he’s put in [for the team], so I asked him to keep it because I think he deserves it.”

Just hours earlier, the 2017 World Masters Championships bronze medallist – who is swimming in six events at these Games – was considering missing out on contesting the 100m freestyle.

The Australian contingent at this year’s Pan American Maccabi Games in Mexico. Photo: Julie Kerbel

He’d endured a sleepless night struck down with a stomach bug, but decided “to do my part” by participating and giving it his all.

His win, and his amazing gesture of donating his gold medal to Gamsu, proved to be a reflection on why he was chosen to captain the team – a selection he said he was deeply “surprised and humbled” by.

Gold was also won by junior swimmer Zak Levine in the boys’ 100m freestyle. The towering 15-year-old Canberra resident, who is six-foot-five, touched the wall in 57.33 seconds, in a win he described as “probably one of my highest achievements” in swimming.

Three silvers and one bronze were also won in the pool in the opening days of the Games – two of them by a mother and daughter.

Sydney 16-year-old Gabi Goodridge was strong in the girls’ 100m freestyle, posting a time of 1:01.30 to finish second.

Moments later, her mum Daniella, also finished second in the women’s masters 100m freestyle, with a competitive time of 1:13.64.

“I think the fact we both got the same medal in the same race [distance] – that was pretty cool,” the elder Goodridge said after the medal presentations.

“It was a great way to be connected again, [doing] what she loves and I still love.”

Barry Carp proudly flying the Australian flag at the Pan American Maccabi Games opening ceremony. Photo: Julie Kerbel

Perhaps the most impressive personal result in the pool for the Aussies was achieved by Jade Berson in the girls’ 200m backstroke – an event the 16-year-old Emanuel School student had never attempted before.

Berson surprised herself by nailing a time of 2:46.25 to win silver.

“I was just like – I’ll give it a go and have a crack,” she said.

“It was the most amazing feeling [to medal] . . . very unexpected.”

To top off an already proud start to the Games by Barry Carp, his niece, Asia, won bronze in the girls’ 800m freestyle.

Raymond Rozen (left) and Sam Parasol enjoy a golden moment. Photo: Julie Kerbel

PARASOL PULLS OFF TABLE TENNIS MIRACLE

VETERAN table tennis player Sam Parasol has achieved so much in his 14 Maccabi Games appearances in Israel, Europe and the Americas spanning many decades, but nothing could compare to what he and his playing partner Raymond Rozen have just achieved in Mexico City.

The Aussie pair cruised into the men’s masters final after being undefeated in the preliminary rounds, but a frightening mid-match health scare to Parasol left their Mexican opponents, the umpire and the crowd stunned, and deeply concerned.

Parasol was two sets up and leading 5-0 in the third set of his singles rubber when he noticeably slowed down and ended up losing the set.

Feeling dizzy and overheated, he was treated courtside by a doctor and a Hatzolah medical crew, and it looked likely the Aussies would need to forfeit the remainder of the final.

But Rozen won his singles game to equalise, and then, courageously, Parasol recovered in time to take his place in the deciding doubles rubber, which Australia won, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

It was a truly epic way to earn a gold medal, but for the unflappable Parasol, the result was never in doubt in his mind.

“I never thought I wouldn’t get back on the court – I was never going to let Raymond down,” Parasol said.

“We’re a team, and you’ve got to fight for your team and your country.”

Parasol’s heroics even stunned neutral spectators in the stands.

An American onlooker said “Sam is an ironman and a champion – I don’t know how he pulled that off”.

Alex Placek. Photo: Julie Kerbel

UPS AND DOWNS IN THE TEAM SPORTS

THERE were mixed results for the Aussies in the team sports in the first few days of the Games.

Highlights included talented tennis junior Alex Placek winning his opening two matches, and beach volleyball duo Max Curtis and Dakota Lipton winning two of their first three matches, including upsetting the USA and an Israeli pair who recently played in the U19 world championships.

Although not on the winner’s list, 87-year-old Maccabi tennis legend Bert Rosenberg put up an almighty fight in 32 degree heat in his knockout masters match, falling 7-10 in a tie-breaker in the deciding third set.

The Australian boys’ football team got off to a great start by drawing 3-3 against strong title contenders Chile – a thriller that featured a brilliant reflex headed goal by Kovi New – but then were totally outclassed 0-7 by Argentina.

Out of Australia’s three basketball teams, the open men’s side is faring the best so far. They stunned hosts Mexico 65-49 in a classy first-up win, but then lost 51-59 to Guatemala. The Aussie boys’ and youth teams lost both of their games against heavyweights USA and Mexico.

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