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.

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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.

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