Israel has a lot to be proud of this week. When the Special Olympics concluded on August 2 in Los Angeles, 40 Israeli athletes had scored 62 medals in a range of competitions that tested the athletes in individual and team events.
The Israeli delegation is composed of athletes with intellectual disabilities from around Israel, many whose families work hard to help pay their way to the international competition.
This year’s team also included basketball medalist Alec Sommer who had a special honor during the Opening Ceremony.
He was one of seven athletes invited to carry the Special Olympics torch during its final leg, receiving the flame from an Iranian athlete.
Of course, while to the outside world it may have looked like two athletes from politically-opposed countries in a rare exchange of goodwill, Sommer and the Iranian athlete had already met and made friends.
The Iranian and Israeli teams were on the same flight to Los Angeles and ended up seated together.
“We were sitting next to each other and it was a twelve-hour flight,” Israeli Head of Delegation Reuven Astrachan told GOOD. “So what do you for twelve hours? You talk. You talk to your neighbor.”
They also snapped an unlikely picture of members of the two groups hugging one another.
GOOD magazine said the athletes showed “a heartwarming example of sports diplomacy,” something that both teams carried on throughout of the competition as they competed in basketball, swimming, track and field and other Olympic sports, often sitting next to one another.
Of course, once the Israeli athletes took to the pool and the playing field, they were all business.
The 40 athletes that traveled to represent Israel competed fierce and are coming home champions, with 25 Gold Medals, 18 Silver Medals, 19 Bronze Medals and some new international friends.