SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – New Zealand Jewish sailor Jo Aleh and her partner Polly Powrie won the gold medal in the women’s 470 regatta.
Aleh, 26, whose parents are dual Israeli-New Zealand citizens, skippered the pair into the lead from the start of the gold medal race Friday at the London Olympic games.
The Kiwis were tied with British duo Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark going into Friday’s winner-takes-all final after letting an eight-point lead slip in the previous round.
But they never let their lead slip when it mattered most; the Brits, the current world champions, found themselves struggling in the near-still conditions, which prompted officials to shorten the course midway through the race. The Kiwis ended up winning by 16 points.
An elated Aleh told BBC Sport just after crossing the finishing line: “It probably won’t sink in for a while but it’s pretty cool!”
The Kiwis and the Brits were guaranteed a silver medal before the race began because of their huge lead on the rest of the pack. Although she knew she’d win a medal, Aleh said, “I thought even silver was a pretty big deal, but it’s pretty awesome to bring back a gold medal because no New Zealand woman has ever won a medal in a sit-down boat so I’m sitting down and we’ve got one now!”
Auckland-based Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, director of Chabad of New Zealand, said on Friday afternoon before the gold medal round, “Our community back home are indeed very proud of Jo’s outstanding achievement. Both Jo and fellow teammate Polly have exemplified the true Kiwi spirit with their extraordinary efforts and performance.”
Israeli expat Meir Alfassi, a family friend in Auckland, said: “She’s done very well. She deserves it, she works very hard. She’s a very focused young lady and smart and knows what she wants.”
He said his family and many other Kiwis tuned in to watch history in the making, even though the race was around midnight Auckland time.
Aleh, a former national champion and 2007 world champion, finished seventh at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Following the Olympics, Aleh and her family reportedly are traveling from London to Israel for Aleh’s half-sister, Shefa’s bat mitzvah celebration. That means an Olympic medal will land in Israel despite the failure of that country’s athletes to win any in London.
However, David Blatt, the American-born Israeli coach of the Russian basketball team, may yet arrive back in Israel with a medal.