From pool to rink to diamond, Jews excelled in the aughts
Depending on who you ask, the decade is coming to a close soon. I’m not here to debate whether it ends after 2009 or 2010, but rather to take advantage of it for column material.
One of the best things about a decade coming to an end is to be able to columnize (yes, that’s a word) about the greatest accomplishments from the 10 years, so I figured it was as good a time as any to take a look at the best Jewish athletes from this past decade (the aughts?):
Sue Bird (basketball): There’s an on-going debate about whether she’s Jewish — I’ve seen things that said she’s “half-Jewish,” but we’ll count her for now. A star at UConn, where she won national titles in 2000 and 2002 (she was national player of the year in that second championship season), Bird was the first overall pick of the 2002 WNBA draft. She’s the all-time assists leader for the Seattle Storm and is first all-time in assists per game and minutes per game in the league. She’s also played in the Russian professional league, and for that, she needed her Jewish heritage. That enabled her to get an Israeli passport, so she wasn’t considered an American player in the league.
Sasha Cohen (figure skating): She may have finished fourth to Sarah Hughes (also on this list) in 2002 and had a little bit of a reputation for falling in big moments, but you could make the argument that she’s been the most thrilling female figure skater of the decade. She came back to take the silver medal in the 2006 Winter Games after winning the U.S. National title that year. In 2004, and she won silver in the U.S. and the World championships — the first time she medaled in that international event. She duplicated the double-silver performance in 2005. She’s making a comeback with the hope of competing in the 2010 Olympic Games, but that would be for next decade’s column.
Jay Fiedler (football): Slim pickings from the world of football, but Fiedler did have his best years from 2000 to 2003 when he was the primary starter for the Miami Dolphins. In the 2000 and 2001 seasons, he went a combined 21-10 and played three playoff games. That 2001 season was clearly the best of his career as he threw for 3,290 yards and completed better than 60 percent of his passes. He did that again in 2002, but made just 10 starts and then made 11 more in 2003. He had three 300-plus yard games this decade and all but 697 of his 11,844 passing yards came in this decade.
Gal Fridman (windsurfing): He might be the one name on this list most don’t recognize. Don’t feel bad; most windsurfers aren’t exactly household names. But he’s one you should know because in 2004 at the Athens Games, he became the first Israeli Olympic gold medal winner when he won the Mistral windsurfer sailing event, a discipline that included 11 races overall. Fridman, who won a bronze in Atlanta in 1996, also took silver in the Mistral European Championship in 2002, won the same event in the World Champinships that year and took home another bronze in the ISAF World Championship in 2003.
Shawn Green (baseball): While some of his best seasons came at the end of the previous decade with the Blue Jays, he began this one with some monster years with the Dodgers. In 2001 and 2002, he averaged 45.5 homers and 119.5 RBIs per season. He finished in the top six in MVP voting both seasons and went to the All-Star Game in 2002. Even though he tailed off after that and was done playing after 2007, his numbers for the decade (starting in 2000) are impressive: .281 average, 1285 hits, 209 homers, 694 RBIs and even 86 stolen bases.
Sarah Hughes (figure skating): In the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Hughes was a surprise gold medal winner in the ladies’ singles figure skating event. She became the first skater to go from being fourth after the short program to win gold since that system was put in place. In this decade, she’s won silver (2001, 2003) and bronze (2000, 2002) at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She also won a bronze at the 2001 World Championships. This past May, she graduated from Yale University, which may have made her parents kvell even more than the medals did.
Lenny Krayzelburg (swimming): So no one will match what Mark Spitz did in terms of Jewish excellence in the pool, but Krayzelburg was about as good as they come in the backstroke. He won three gold medals in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Then, to prove some good old-fashioned perseverance, he came back from knee and shoulder surgery to win a fourth gold in Athens four years later as part of the U.S. 4×100 Medley Relay team.
Jason Lezak (swimming): You can bet he’s still on Michael Phelps’s favorite person list. In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where Phelps took home a record eight gold medals, it was Lezak’s own record-setting performance in the 4×100 freestyle relay that made it possible for Phelps to reach that milestone. Lezak also won his first individual medal, a bronze, in the 100-meter freestyle. He won a pair of medals in both the 2000 and 2004 Games as well.
Mathieu Schneider (hockey): Now at age 40, Schneider’s 21-year NHL career looks as though it’s coming to a close. But it’s been a fantastic career for the defenseman. While he started way back in 1988, he’s continued to be a mainstay throughout this past decade for several teams and made the All-Star Team with Detroit in 2003. His 1,272 games played puts him fifth on the active all-time list and he’s played in the playoffs 14 times, eight times this decade.
Dara Torres (swimming): She would belong on this list simply for her exploits in Beijing alone. In the 2008 Summer Games, at age 41, she co-captained the U.S. Swim Team and won three silver medals. She won five medals back in 2000, in Sydney, as well, including two golds for her work on relay teams. That came after a seven-year absence from the sport. Can anyone explain to me why we do so well in the water?
Kevin Youkilis (baseball): Once dubbed as “The Greek God of Walks” in the book, “Moneyball,” Youkilis didn’t even come up to the Boston Red Sox until 2004. But he’s made the most of his six seasons, that’s for sure, winning a pair of World Series, going to two All-Star Games and finishing third in MVP voting in 2008. He even won a Gold Glove in 2007, but it’s his offensive numbers that stand out: a .292 average (over .300 in each of the past two seasons), a .391 on-base percentage, 93 homers (56 the past two years) and 408 RBIs. He’s had at least 150 hits in each of the last four seasons.
(Jonathan Mayo, The Chronicle’s sports columnist and a staff writer for MLB.com, can be reached at email@example.com.)