Goodnight Vienna: Brits bring down curtain on a thriller

By Danny Caro, July 14, 2011

It's literally impossible to sum up the 13th European Maccabi Games in a few words.

Having sent its largest-ever squad to an EMG, it was pretty clear from the outset that Team GB were going to come home with a record medal haul. But these Games were about so much more than just the medals.

Some people turned down the opportunity to join the squad in a country where millions of Jews lost their lives, but I have to say that they missed out on something special.

We saw just about everything that is great about the British. They played hard, they played fair and win or lose, they were gracious. The Junior, Open and Masters squads had a ball.

Months of preparation, both on and off the pitch, were rewarded with a sack-load of medals but these Games were not just about excellence on the pitch.

The medical team worked around the clock to ensure our athletes were ship-shape and ready for action in a gruelling schedule and I have to commend Marc Wittenberg who helped a German footballer who had been knocked unconscious and had an obstructed airway. Physio Dalia Nessim was also a real trooper, helping the boys overcome various aches and pains during the week.

It has been work, work, work for me over the past week but seeing fellow Jews from across Europe bond and compete has been something to behold.

The piece de resistance came at the opening ceremony when three generations – Harry Bibring, Michael Bibring and Lee Bibring carried the Maccabi GB flag.

It was an emotional home-coming for Harry, whose childhood tales about Vienna during Nazi occupation had people of all ages listening to him during the city tours. He is an amazing man and his story left an everlasting memory on these Games.

The Austrians were great hosts and the facilities and organisation in Vienna made it one of the best-ever. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that London could learn a lot from this city where transport links, the train and facilities are top-class.

Of course, not everything went to plan. There was the odd broiges, including when the captain and coach of the Belgium team were expelled and the Germans and Hungarians had an almighty scuffle in the changing area. But each and every incident was dealt with a fair and firm hand and in most cases, people made up with a handshake and a hug.

There was one thing that not everyone could get their head around. Several guest nations including Israel, Australia, America and Mexico were invited to compete but if they won their event, the runner-up would be upgraded to a European gold. It just made no sense. But as I heard several times in Vienna, it is what it is.

But the final word must go to Stuart Lustigman, the former chairman of the European Maccabi Confederation. After listening to Harry's childhood memories on a tour of the city, Stuart looked a little worried. He told me that he was concerned about the forecast for the next few days as every time he checked the weather, the word 'wetter' was on his TV screen. I've since given him a crash-course in German.

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Last updated: 1:00pm, December 29 2011