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Hitting the Olympic Mat, Jewish Wrestler Finds Victory in Defeat

Yesterday, I watched Ari Taub, a 37-year-old Jewish lawyer from Canada, take on a worthy opponent and 16 years of personal demons in the 120-kilogram category Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the Chinese Agricultural University Gym.

While Taub was eliminated after losing his first match 2-1, 4-1 to Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary, his Sisyphean journey to the Olympics is reminiscent of the trials of another Jewish wrestler.

At 6’3” and 269 pounds, Taub has suffered more than just cauliflower ear to reach the Olympics. Taub is Canada’s first Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler since 1996 — a worthy achievement (even if he did last only four minutes on the mat yesterday), since his Olympic wait started 16 years ago, when he was named to the 1992 Olympic team, but lost his position in a wrestle-off. To make matters worse, Taub was later diagnosed with bone spurs, a condition that doctors said could leave him paralyzed if he continued wrestling, so he dropped the sport and headed to law school. It was only in 2000 that he found out he had been misdiagnosed, during treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Jumping back into his singlet, Taub won the Canadian championship in Greco-Roman in 2004, only to learn he wasn’t eligible for the Athens games because he had competed in too few international bouts.

Luckily, Taub was able to qualify for Beijing during the 2008 Pan-Am Championships, having won the bronze medal at the 2007 Pan-Am Games. It was then that he saw his second chance come to life. “I probably spent a thousand nights thinking ‘Gee, if I could only wrestle again, what would I do differently,” he said. “I don’t think it’s very often in life that you get to really grieve over being done something, and then think about what you’d do differently forever, and then get a chance to actually do it.”

Despite leaving his Calgary-based law firm to spend over $150,000 on training for Beijing, and bringing his wife and two sets of twins to yesterday’s match at the Chinese Agricultural University Gym, yesterday’s loss didn’t crush Taub’s spirit.

While others threw tantrums, Taub said he was thrilled just to be there, having faced off against decades of hardship and finally making it to the Olympics.

“All the hard work and stuff that I’ve done over the last 23 years is what allowed me to get here,” said Taub. “This is really the show, this is where we get to have a good time. I got to stand on that mat.”

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