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Jewish Athlete of the Month

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Esther Roth - hurdles in 76 olympics

May 2017 – Esther Roth-Shahamarov, Israeli Olympian

Esther Roth-Shahamarov is arguably Israel’s greatest track and field athlete, representing the small country in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games.  In the 1976 Games in Montreal, Roth became the first Israeli Olympian to reach the finals in any Olympic event, and is still the only Israeli to reach a track event finals, finishing in 6th Place in the 100m Hurdles, with a time of 13.04 seconds.

Esther Roth - head shot

Roth once simultaneously held five Israeli national records, in the 100m, 100m hurdles, 200m, long jump and women’s pentathlon.  Her records have all since been surpassed, except for her time of 11.45 in the 100m – set in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games – which is still the top Israeli performance for women.

It was at those Munich Games of 1972 that Roth perhaps held her greatest promise, and along with her team and her entire country (and the Jewish world as a whole) suffered its greatest athletic tragedy.  Roth entered the Games with much hope an promise, and though she fell short of qualifying for the 100m finals, she had advanced to the semifinals of the 100m Hurdles, and event in which she clearly excelled.

The world changed for her, and for all who thought sports existed above the political world, when Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, immediately killed two members of the Israeli delegation and took 9 more hostage.  During a botched rescue attempt later that night, the 9 hostages were killed.  Among the 11 victims was Roth’s longtime coach, Amitzur Shapira.  In shock, and devastated, Roth – along with the rest of the remaining Israeli delegation – withdrew from the Games.

Israeli Olympians murdered in Munich Esther Roth with Coach Shapira

It was her then finance, Peter Roth, that helped her heal and get her back on the competitive track.  Peter Roth had become her new coach, and Esther had a renewed sense of purpose.  “I was determined to compete as a way of memorializing my coach [Shapira] and giving my country something to be proud of.”  She did just that.  In 1974, Roth took home three gold medals at the Asian Games (in the 100m, 200m & 100m hurdles) on her way to preparing for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal where she became Israel’s first Olympic finalist ever.

Roth grew up in a religious home in a poor neighborhood south of Tel Aviv, “modest in every sense of the word,” she notes.  She grew up a no-nonsense woman, always shunning the spotlight.  After each accomplishment, she tucked away her medals and moved on to the next thing.

Esther Roth - recent

For Roth, not much has really changed over the years.  Today, she continues to work as a Physical Education teacher.  “That was my dream [growing up].  It still is – and I am living it!”

israel_fencing_association

Esther Roth’s son, Yaron, was an Israeli Fencing champion.