Olympian gold medalist leads U.S. delegation at Maccabiah opening

When swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale heard his name announced Wednesday afternoon as the U.S. flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games, he just about lost his breath.

A two-time gold medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Weber-Gale had spoken with JTA earlier this week about the powerful feelings he experienced during his first few days in Israel. His emotional high continued during a pep rally at the Maccabi movement’s headquarters in Ramat Gan.

More than 1,100 athletes and coaches cheered the announcement of those chosen to bear the American banner and lead the team Thursday night into Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium. Weber-Gale confessed to hoping he would be selected. He was not.

Then Jeffrey Bukantz, Maccabi USA’s general chairman, called Weber-Gale’s name as the flag bearer and the room erupted in applause.

“My heart was just pumping like crazy. I was so excited,” Weber-Gale said. “I was a little embarrassed walking up there with everyone watching me.”

The selection ranks right up with his Olympics experiences, said Weber-Gale, who lives in Austin, Tex., but was raised in Milwaukee.

“To represent the U.S.A., and the Jewish people in general, I can’t tell you how much this makes my blood pump.”

Hillel Kuttler in 2011 launched “Seeking Kin,” his now-thrice-monthly column on people searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Hillel also writes regularly for the N.Y. Times, where his features often tackle the nexus of sports and history. Hillel served for 6 1/2 years as The Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief. He has earned national awards for his feature stories on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and on NBA player Omri Casspi.