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Countdown to Competition: The Maccabiah Games (and fears about heat-induced super-bouncy squash balls)

July 1, 2009 – 8:37 AM
Sarah Odell (in blue) practices for Maccabi Games in NYC

Sarah Odell (in blue) practices for Maccabiah Games

By Sarah Odell

Tomorrow I leave with members of the U.S. men’s and women’s squash teams to compete in the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv. The Games –- would you believe the third-largest sporting event in the world? — happen every four years in Israel and are a chance for Jewish athletes to celebrate our common history and culture (and hopefully win some medals!)

The sports:  Basketball (M,F), Beach Volleyball (M,F), Cycling (M,F), Fencing (M,F), Field Hockey (F),  Futsal (M),  Golf(M,F), Gymnastics (M,F),  Half Marathon(M,F),  Judo(M,F), Karate(M,F), Lawn Bowls (M),  Rhythmic Gymnastics (F),  Rowing (M,F), Rugby (M),  Soccer(M,F),  Softball(M,F),  Squash(M,F),  Swimming(M,F),  Table Tennis (M),  Taekwondo(M,F),  Ten Pin Bowling(M,F),  Tennis(M,F),  Track & Field (M,F),  Triathlon (M,F),  Volleyball(M,F),  Water Polo (M),  Wrestling (M).

The Games actually run July 12 to July 23 (coverage on JLTV), but first I’ll participate in a 10-day training camp with the U.S. delegation. Athletes on our team range in age from 21 (I’m the youngest) to 45. When the Games open, the U.S. Squash team will compete in the team event against Great Britain, Israel and Brazil. After team competition ends, we compete for individual medals. (Sort of like gymnastics in the Olympics.)

While interning at a publishing company in Manhattan this summer, I’ve been practicing at The Harvard Club of New York, eating extra helpings of fruit and oats for energy and lots of olives to prepare my tongue for the Mediterranean onslaught when we arrive in Israel. I’ve also been lifting weights, playing four days a week, and doing tons of cardio to be ready.

But all that can’t erase my biggest fear: That the ball will be so bouncy, because it is so hot in Israel, that I won’t look remotely like the same player who spends six months playing in Boston. (They do have AC, but I’ve heard it’s so hot there, it sort of doesn’t make a difference.)

Little known fact outside of squash circles: When the ball is really hot, it gets super bouncy (not a problem in New England where courts are dry and cold) and it can feel like a different game.

The ball sits up (instead of dying when you slice it), or if you try to kill the ball low (slam it), it bounces up off the front wall, or the side wall, or the nick. It makes the games longer because nobody can put the ball away and everything is gettable (you basically are waiting for your opponent to screw up or get tired).

I’m sure I’ll be in great shape (by the end of the trip!), but the matches are going to be long and punishing. I just hope I’m equal to the task. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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