Global stars will light up London Olympics

In part three of our preview of the 2012 Olympic Games, we focus on some of the Jewish athletes from around the globe

STEVE GLUCKSTEIN
Country: USA
Date of birth: June 24,1990
Born: New Jersey
Sport: Gymnastics (trampolining)
Honours: 2009 Trampolining World Cup champion, 2010 World Synchro Championships champion, Four-time US synchro champion (2007-2010), Three-time US trampoline champion (2007, 2009-10)

Not many first-time Olympians mention skydiving as a hobby, but then again, Steve Gluckstein is not your average athlete. He took up gymnastics in 2000, after his school taekwondo club closed down, and has never looked back.

His mother, Loretta, encouraged him to take up the sport and with several titles in the bag he is relishing his trip to London, although he admitted the recent trials as “the most pressure I’ve ever experienced in my life”. He won all three selection events, edging out 19-year-old brother Jeffrey.

Gluckstein is the son of a Wall Street money manager and he is coached by Russian star Tatiana Kovaleva, the 1996 individual world champion. He tasted heartbreak in 2008 after missing out on a place in the USA squad for the Beijing Olympics, but that is now a distant memory. He said: “This broke my spirits, but at the same time gave me vengeance. I told myself that day - this wasn’t my time. 2012 is my time."

And what does he put his selection down to? “Work ethic,” he said. “I am where I am today because of it. I have natural talent but that is not the reason why I am Olympian.

Since I was a boy, my parents and coach enforced a strict work ethic and I am so thankful that it stuck. I always go to the gym and give it 110 per cent. If you can build this characteristic trait into who you are, you can accomplish anything and everything.”

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ALY RAISMAN
Country: USA
Date of birth: May 25, 1994
Born: Needham,
Massachusetts
Sport: Gymnastics (floor, beam)
Honours: 2011 World Championships gold and bronze, 2012 Visa Championships two-time gold, 2010 Pacific Rim Championships team gold and 3 silvers

Performing to the dulcet tones of Hava Nagila, Aly Raisman began her gymnastics career at the tender age of 18 months, at a mother and toddler class. Her first medal came in 2009 in the junior division of the Visa Championships and she has never looked back.

A year later she was selected for the Junior Pan American Championships and came away three more pieces of silverware, including team gold and gold in the vault and floor disciplines. Later that year she took silver at the World Championships, which she described as “a truly amazing experience”.

She was crowned world champion in 2011 when she was also awarded the Pearl D. Mazor Outstanding Female Jewish High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, on behalf of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

After her place in the USA 2012 Olympic squad was confirmed, Raisman tweeted: “Wow. Olympics here I come. So honoured to represent my country in London this summer. Dreams do come true.”

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JASON LEZAK
Country: USA
Date of birth: November 12, 1975
Born: Irvine, California
Sport: Swimming
Honours: 7 medals over 4 Olympic Games (2000-2008), including four gold,
2003 & 2005 two-time World Champion

Taking part in his fourth Olympic Games, Jason Lezak is the senior statesman of the American team. The highlight of a distinguished career was arguably his headline-grabbing performance that saw him help Michael Phelps to a record-breaking medal haul with an heroic final leg in the relay.

A stunning effort in the the 400 freestyle relay saw him overtake French star Alain Bernard in Beijing. This will never be forgotten.

The father-of-two, who also competed at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel, has seven Olympic medals, including four golds, to his name and he will be looking to bow out on a high in what will be his last Games.

Lezak has come full circle after starting and finishing his Olympic career on the relay team. He said: “It’s a great feeling because I’ve learned a lot and hopefully I can be a team leader and help these guys swim fast.”

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STEVE SOLOMON
Country: Australia
Date of birth: May 16, 1993
Born: Vaucluse, Sydney
Sport: Athletics (4x400m relay)
Honours: 2011 National 400m champion, NSW Maccabi Sportsman of the Year

Steve Solomon has made something of a meteoric rise in the world of athletics and there will be few prouder parents watching than Lucille and Michael Solomons when he makes his Olympic bow in London.

It is hard to believe Solomons, 19, only took up the sport only two and a half years ago and has put in some devastating performances, including a personal best of 45:54 seconds in the 400m in April this year.

He said: “I’m really excited to compete. I really want to show what I can do in front of the world against the top guys in the world.

“Everything else that comes with the Olympics, the Olympic fever, the village atmosphere, going to watch the other sports, the Olympic village, it’s all something I’m looking forward to.”

He plans to follow his father into medicine after accepting a scholarship at Stanford University after the Games.

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JULIE ZETLIN
Country: USA
Date of birth: June 30, 1990
Born: Bethesda
Sport: Rhythmic Gymnastics
Honours: 2011 Pan-American qames gold medal, 2010 US Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships gold medal

Julie Zetlin took up gymnastics in 1994 and will be the first rhythmic gymnast to represent Team USA at Olympics since 2004. She has made a full recover after tearing her meniscus twice.

Performing in Swarovski crystal-encrusted custom leotards costing $1,500 each, Zetlin said: “I think I’m upping the game for US rhythmic gymnastics. The sport is very big in Europe and especially Russia, it’s the most popular sport for women.

“You see the girls on billboards and in Vogue magazine. It’s awesome. I’m trying to make that happen in the United States, but it’s going to take a while.

“I really love performing to different types of music and letting my personality shine on the carpet. That’s one of the most fun things about rhythmic gymnastics for me.

“My body every day tells me more and more that time is limited,” said Zetlin, who plans to retire after London.

“The goal and the dream was to make the Olympics. This is it. This is my time. This is my prime. I’ve done what
I needed to do — not just for me but for USA gymnastics.”

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JO ALEH
Country: New Zealand
Date of birth: May 15, 1986
Born: Auckland
Sport: Sailing
Honours: 2007 Winner of the 420 World Championships

Jo Aleh will be going for gold in the women’s 470 after a disappointing seventh in the Laser Radial class in Beijing in 2008.

The 26-year-old teamed up with her former 420 sailing partner Olivia Powdrie to form ‘Team Jolly’ in late 2008 in a bid to challenge for medals at the London Games.

Team Jolly won the women’s 470 class in the last World Cup event of 2012 in Weymouth in June, finished fourth at the Barcelona World Championships in May and are the current New Zealand 470 national champions.

Aleh, whose best result to date is winning the 420 World Championships in 2007, was born in Auckland after her Israeli father and Kiwi mother moved there from Israel.

The last New Zealand keelboat Olympic medal was silver in Barcelona in 1992 in the 470 class. Team Jolly will be hoping for better this year.

Additional reporting by Graham Morrison

Last updated: 11:12am, July 14 2012