THREE Jewish Australian athletes are getting pumped about making their debut appearances at the World University Games, which Naples will host from July 3-14.
Judo athlete Noam Tidhar, swimmer Benno Negri and race walker Jemima Montag are part of the Australian team that will compete at the Games, which are held only every two years, and are considered the second biggest multi-sport event in the world in terms of participation.
For Tidhar, a University of Melbourne masters of structural engineering student, this amazing opportunity represents the ultimate comeback story.
A former Oceania and Australian National Championships titleholder, the talented 24-year-old had qualified for the 2017 World University Games, but was forced to pull out due to breaking bones in his neck during an Australian team training camp.
Other serious injuries in recent years, including tearing an ACL joint and snapping a hamstring, prevented him from competing in major international and domestic judo competitions, including qualification events for the last Olympic Games.
“It wasn’t an easy road to get back to the level I was at, but support from Melbourne University’s Elite Athlete Program (EAP) was a significant factor in my recovery,” Tidhar told The AJN last week before departing for Italy.
“I did a lot of psychological and physical rehab work, and I was only able to return to full judo training last August.
“It was a real test of resilience, and a process that has given me a refreshed focus, and has made me feel a lot more grateful about what I have.
“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I feel that physically, but even more so, mentally.”
University of Melbourne EAP co-ordinator Brendan Parnell describes Tidhar as “a very highly regarded member and leader, who always works hard and is a mentor to many of our younger athletes”.
Tidhar will bring good form with him to Naples, having won a silver medal at the 2019 Australian Judo Championships earlier this month in the men’s under-66kg division, losing the final to Olympian Nathan Katz.
Even better, his whole family will travel to Italy to cheer him on.
Negri, a Monash University student and Melbourne Vicentre Swim Club rep, is also in great form, having won gold and silver age division medals in the men’s 100 and 50 freestyle events at the 2019 Australian Swimming Championships, where he also qualified for the A final in the 200 free, which was won by 2016 Olympic Games gold medallist Kyle Chalmers.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to represent Australia, and feel I’m in a really good position to swim as well as I ever have,” Negri said.
Montag, who will warm up for the World University Games at this weekend’s 2019 Oceania Athletics Championships, said she can’t wait to “mix it up with some of the best athletes in the world”.
“After a bit of a bumpy start to the year, I’ve had a great 8-week training block . . . and each time I put on that green and gold shirt, it gives me an extra boost.”