Written by Evan Oscherwitz
On Tuesday in the city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, 35 men and women were forever immortalized as the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inducted its classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Israeli Olympic gymnastics champions Linoy Ashram and Artem Dolgopyat, as well as American men’s soccer legend Jeff Agoos, were among the inductees.
“It’s a very special feeling,” Agoos said. “To be inducted with such an esteemed class, as well as the classes that came before me.. this is a very special opportunity.”
Agoos, who competed in the 1985 and 1989 Maccabiot, mentioned the games several times in his acceptance speech, and cited his participation in the 1985 Maccabiah as the impetus for his professional career. It was at those games that he first met Dave Sarachan, who recruited him to the University of Virginia and introduced him to Bruce Arena. Arena would eventually coach Agoos with the men’s national team and make him one of the all-time leaders in games played.
“[The Maccabiah] is really where a lot of things in my career and my life started,” he said. “It really started my career as a whole and I can’t be more thankful for the people that made that happen.”
Earlier in the week, Agoos spoke to the American junior and masters soccer teams competing at this year’s Maccabiah in an attempt to give back to the organization that helped him reach the pinnacle of American soccer. Maccabi USA executive committee officer Donald Kent said the players were “blown away” by Agoos’ visit.
“They were only concentrating on practicing and winning,” Agoos said. “But hopefully something we said made a difference. To be able to impart some of the lessons I’ve learned, I think, was really meaningful.”
While Agoos had to wait until well over a decade after his retirement from soccer to be enshrined into the hall of fame, two of his fellow 2022 inductees received the honor while still in the primes of their careers. Israel’s two Olympic heroes from Tokyo 2020 – gymnasts Artem Dolgopyat and Linoy Ashram – became two of the youngest inductees ever, at ages 25 and 23, respectively.
“There’s a certain excitement around the Olympics,” IJSHOF chairman Jed Margolis said. “The fact that [Ashram and Dolgopyat] won was unusual, it was spectacular, and we wanted to take advantage of the excitement (by inducting them this year).”
Thanks to Agoos, Ashram, Dolgopyat and company, the 2022 enshrinement ceremony was one of the most star-studded in recent memory. It featured athletes of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities. It featured household names and unsung heroes alike, but perhaps most importantly, it featured 35 exemplary Jewish athletes who left and continue to leave a legacy of excellence. Some, like Ashram and Dolgopyat, may have their finest days still ahead of them, while others like Agoos have moved onto different endeavors.
Whatever lies ahead for the 35 men and women enshrined on Tuesday, the 2022 crop of inductees will certainly be remembered for a long time to come.