Wrestlers from Israel, Morocoo and the United States train together in Israel this week. Photo by Aaron Galef, courtesy of event organizers.
The wrestling federation of Israel is hosting an international wrestling tournament to mark 50 years since the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, where Israeli Olympic delegation members were kidnapped by terrorists in the Olympic Village, with 11 Israeli Olympians ultimately murdered.
According to the Israel Wrestling Federation, “in commemoration of our fallen athletes from the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, our federation is holding a wrestling tournament officially titled the ‘Slavin, Halfen, Weinberg & Gottfreund Memorial’ and under the moniker of a ‘wrestling tournament for peace.’”
The four Israeli Olympians from the wrestling team who were killed were Yossef Gutfreund (referee), Moshe Weinberg (coach) and wrestling athletes Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin.
There will be a Senior-level competition on Thursday, August 25 in Greco-Roman and Friday, August 26 in men’s freestyle at The Conch Arena. There are six countries expected in the tournament, Israel, the United States, Morocco, Germany, Greece and Switzerland.
Also planned for the week is an informal training camp program for youth athletes. Included will be U.S. youth wrestlers from Hope Academy in Chicago, as well as Beat the Streets Cleveland. A big focus is building connections between the athletes from the nations involved.
Three-time Greco-Roman World Team member and current National Team member Pat Smith of the Minnesota Storm will be among the U.S. Senior entries in the competition.
“Dan Willis runs the Hope Academy and is with Beat the Streets out of Chicago. I have done some camps for him in the past. He is bringing 40-plus high school kids there, to do some sports diplomacy with Israel, and to get involved with the event they are doing. John and Ben Peterson, who were in the Munich Games, are also going. They were looking for someone to come and represent them in the Senior-level tournament. It sounded like a pretty amazing opportunity, and I decided to jump on it. I get to see Israel, represent the USA, and be with a great group of guys in what should be a historic event,” said Smith.
John and Ben Peterson were U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestlers who were in the Olympic Village during the Munich Games. They are legends in the sport, both who won an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic silver medal and will be inducted into the UWW International Wrestling Hall of Fame this year.
Also on the trip is the first Senior World Greco-Roman champion in U.S. history, 1985 World champion Mike Houck, who later served as USA Wrestling’s National Greco-Roman Coach. Each of these U.S. wrestling legends will spend time coaching the young Israeli wrestlers during camp, as well as helping the U.S. athletes in the competition.
“John (Peterson) has been a big mentor my whole life. He was with Athletes in Action at the University of Minnesota when I was there, and we met weekly with him doing Bible study, and just talking. John helped me out a lot. I met Ben at Camp of Champs. I get the opportunity to be around two legends of the sport and strong men of faith. Add in Mike Houck, one of the biggest mentors of my life. It will be cool to be out there, and to have Mike in my corner for the first time in a long time,” said Smith.
Smith, who placed second in 2022 Final X, has been training this summer and looks forward to both the competition and the overall experience.
“I have been training with Ivan (Ivanov) and the national team for the majority of August and a little bit of July. It will be a nice little test to be back out there and what we have been doing, and if it makes a little change. I will be ready to go and it will be a fun event,” said Smith,
USA Wrestling will report the results of the event as information becomes available.
One of the leaders of the tour is Dr. Aviram Shmuely, an Israeli referee who lives in New York City and is very active with the New York Athletic Club and U.S. wrestling.
There will also be wrestling diplomacy included in the tour between Israel and Morocco.
“A very significant part of this event is that it follows the Abraham Accords, in which Israel and Morocco signed a peace agreement. The delegation of 17 Moroccans have arrived in Israel for a week and the Moroccan Wrestling Federation President will be signing an agreement of cooperation with the President of the Israeli Wrestling Federation in the presence of the Chairperson of the Israeli Olympic Committee and the Moroccan Ambassador to Israel,” said event director Jake Kornblatt.
SLAVIN, HALFEN, WEINBERG & GOTTFREUND MEMORIAL
at Beer Sheva, Israel, August 25-26
Thursday, August 25
10:00 a.m. – conclusion – Greco-Roman preliminaries through semifinals
3:30 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies
4:00 p.m. – conclusion – Greco-Roman finals and award ceremonies
Friday, August 26
10:00 a.m. – conclusion – Men’s freestyle preliminaries through semifinals
4:00 p.m. – conclusion – Men’s freestyle finals and award ceremonies