Team GB Table Tennis manager Dov Katz refelcts on his squad's performance at the 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Table tennis is the most demanding sport to win a medal at the Maccabiah. This year proved to be no different with many world-class professional table tennis players in action, from many countries including Israel, Russia, USA, France, Germany and Argentina.
USA, for example, had 18 year-old Michael Landers - the face of Kellogg's prior to London 2012 - who at 15 years of age became the youngest winner of the USA mens national championships. France had Olivier Marmurek, formerly ranked no. 2 in France behind Jean-Philippe Gatien the then world-champion. Russia had Georgy Rubinstein who has just come back from Italy having won the Masters world championships.
It has to be said that none of these players made the semi-finals of the Maccabiah, outclassed by the Israeli national team, which showed the level of competition where these players practice several hours a day, seven days a week and are training for Rio 2015.
The Maccabi GB open team bravely missed out on a bronze medal by the narrowest of margins, losing to USA 11-9 in the final set of the final match, poised at 2-2. It was nail-biting and gripping, with world-class GB performances, but this time it was not meant to be. Two of the Americans are in training for the next Olympics. Prior to that, the team comprising Ashley Stokes, Guy Ben-Aroya and Rafi Marom demolished Germany 3-0, the 1st victory in over 30 years. That was no mean feat, in fact it was an incredible victory. One of the Germans firn the group singles matches beat the eventual gold medal singles winner Omri Ben-Ari.
In the singles, Ashley Stokes reached the quarter-finals for the second Maccabiah in succession, narrowly losing 4 sets to 3 to the eventual runner-up Elensky, the current Israeli champion. Such fine margins. Stokes teamed up in the doubles with Katz, who came off the manager's bench to compete, remarkably, in his fifth Maccabiah, where they dramatically lost to the Americans 3 sets to 1 in the quarters.
The junior boys team, comprising Jack Josephs, Sasha Somers, Joseph Klein and Ronen Weinstein, performed heroically but lost out for a potential bronze again to USA, deuce in the final decider. Somers reached the quarter-finals of the singles and he and Jack lost out in the quarters of the doubles.
The junior girls - Zoe Waxkirsh and Sharon Bamberg - did magnificently to finish fourth in a tournament won by Germany ahead of Israel.
The GB Masters team of Michael Gerrard and John Gee-Grant showed glimpses of magic as both players performed excellently and finished fifth. A good achievement, given the level of opposition. Gerrard's moment came when he took a set of the reigning Masters singles champion, Menachen Stein. A spirited display that epitomised this squad.
Dov Katz, co-chairman and Team Manager of the GB table tennis team that competed at this year's Maccabiah, spoke of his pride at leading the squad.
"I am extremely proud of the achievements of this squad. At times our table tennis was breath-taking against world-class professional athletes, some of whom excel on the international stage. The win for the open team against Germany was my highlight - it was an emphatic victory against one of the tournament's favourites that included a player that beat the eventual gold medal singles winner.
"The match against USA was exhilarating, played out magnificently in front of several hundred people. In the end there had to be a victor and this time it was USA but it is no disgrace losing to a team that had the US national mens champion and also the no. 13 nationally-ranked mens player. Given the high level of competition, to come fourth at this year's Maccabiah is a major achievement, although we won bronze in 2009.
"Stokes did phenomenally well to reach the quarters again before losing to the silver medallist by a single set. Our masters and juniors also performed heroically and came away with their head held firmly high. They should be delighted with their performances.
"As the journey of a lifetime draws to a close, I'd like to thank each and everyone of our squad for their contribution to the most wonderful 19th Maccabiah Games. Most importantly, from my perspective and that of Maccabi GB, each member of the squad embraced the experience in a manner befitting of an international Jewish athlete and left Israel with a love for the country and lifelong friendships made from all over the world.
"We were noted for being the most collegiate squad, by a stretch, and one which everyone strived to be. We played fairly and treated our Jewish opponent with the utmost respect and for that the squad should be chuffed. It is by this that we measure our success and we come away victors.
"As my role as Team Manager ends, I would like to thank my co-chair Lee Vandermolen, MGB table tennis stalwart Mel Davidson and junior manager Yoni Caspi, for their significant contributions and also our many sponsors including team sponsor HowardKennedyFsi LLP.
Let the preparations for the European Maccabi Games in Berlin 2015 now begin in earnest where we will see if we can emulate the enormous successes of these Games and those held in Vienna in 2011, where the team had unprecedented success in winning three golds, three silvers and three bronzes. My training to compete in the Masters, in what would be my 7th Europeans, has commenced."