When Jane Katz said she was swimming for the gold at the 19th Maccabiah Games, she wasn’t kidding. The 70-year-old Masters champion, who has participated in every Maccabiah Games since 1957, came home to New York laden with 13 medals.
Katz won each of the 11 individual Masters level swimming events she entered, and also earned a gold medal as a member of the US team in the women’s freestyle relay, and a silver medal in the medley relay.
The lifelong athlete and promoter of aquatic fitness held a banner and marched directly behind Team USA flag bearer, Olympic gold medal swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale, in the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium. She also participated in the inauguration ceremony for the new state-of-the-art pool at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, where the games’ swimming competitions were held. As part of those festivities, Katz, wearing a swim costume with both American and Israeli national symbols, performed a synchronized swimming routine choreographed to Hatikvah.
Back in New York and still on a high from her wins, Katz spoke with the Forward’s Renee Ghert-Zand about her 14th consecutive Maccabiah experience — her most successful one yet.
RENEE GHERT-ZAND: You won an amazing 13 medals, most of them gold. Was this your best result at a Maccabiah Games?
JANE KATZ: It’s like I’ve got “swimlash” from all the medals around my neck. I’ve never won so many medals at a Maccabiah. I won in the 50 meter and 100 meter events in each stroke. I also won in the 200 freestyle and the 200 individual medley, as well as in the 400 freestyle. I was on the US women’s team that won the gold in the freestyle relay, and we came in second in the medley relay. Breaststroke and butterfly are not usually my strength, but I even won swimming those events.
To what do you attribute your outstanding success this time?
I had very good times. I hadn’t done this kind of speed for the past half dozen years. There are different reasons why I swam so fast. I think it had to do with the great new pool, and we were wearing those fast suits that can take an entire team to help get on. And, of course, I trained for this event.
But I also think it’s about older being better. I’m swimming smarter, pacing myself so I wouldn’t die at the end of my races. There’s wisdom in old age.
How did it feel to be back in Israel for your 14th Maccabiah?
I love building Jewish pride through sports. I feel very comfortable at the Maccabiah, and it’s easier to do your best when you feel you are part of a majority, when you are among Jews, and where all Jews are welcome. I love the opportunity it gives me to meet other Jews from around the world one-on-one. It was fun trading team sportswear.
It was a reunion with old friends from the other teams, and I also visited with Israeli relatives. I went to new places for me, like the Tel Aviv port, and I also had the chance to return to places I visited or stayed at during previous games.
Did being in Israel affect your last-minute training, or your races?
Those full Israeli breakfasts are very healthy. Filling up on that good food in the morning kept me full and energetic for my afternoon races. But I admit that I also indulged in some falafels. One of the volunteers took me to an unbelievable falafel place in Netanya.
Did your holding the record for attending the most Maccabiah Games, or your medal sweep, accord you special status among the other athletes?
Some people knew my story, and others told me they had read about me in the Forward. I was able to give advice to others and share my wisdom. However, it’s important to point out that even though our team did great, other countries have fast women too… in the water, that is.
Jane Katz, 70, Sweeps at Maccabiah Games