A former University of South Carolina Rugby standout was honored in 2009 for competing and taking bronze for his country as he represented the United States at the Maccabi Games.
Aviv Shamah, a 2008 graduate of Gamecock U took great pride in making the select side that traveled to Israel and challenged the world elite.
Erik Geib with USCRugby.org spoke with Shamah earlier this year.
Summer is typically the time for many ruggers to relax, play recreational sevens, and train for the coming Fall. For a select group of Jewish athletes, however, it was an opportunity to represent their country in the 18th edition of the Maccabiah Games, the world’s third-largest sporting event.
Held once every four years, and featuring over 9,000 athletes competing in 31 events from 54 countries, Maccabiah is an international athletic event similar to the Olympics. It is sanctioned by both the International Olympic Committee and the World Federation of Sports, and was originally held in 1932, 16 years prior to Israel’s re-birth as a nation. Since 1957 the event has been held once every four years. Last year’s games (2009) were held July 12-24 in locations throughout Israel.
“The experience I had in Israel was beyond what I could have imagined,” Shamah said. “About an hour after we landed we were already practicing… We trained every morning for 10 days. We worked on set pieces, cardio, and overall strategy. The team had an amazing set of backs and a very dynamic group of forwards, so our game plan was to move around a lot and quickly. When we were not practicing, we were traveling around Israel with other groups of athletes.”
Known for his hard-hitting tackles and relentless enthusiasm in the ruck, Shamah was a natural fit among the elite players to represent the United States. During his tenure at USC, Aviv consistently set the tone for the Gamecock forwards, exerting himself at prop, lock, and flanker. This flexibility served him well, as though he was listed as a prop for Maccabi USA, Shamah found his playing time as one of the team’s starting locks.
The United States’ first match was against its northern neighbor, Canada, a “hard fought game” played in mid-day Israeli heat. Following the 34-13 victory over its rival, the USA breezed past Chile 90-05 to set up a semi-final match against Great Britain.
Though the Americans gave the Brits a run for their money, the result was a heartbreaking loss for the United States. Britain, of course, is the birthplace of rugby, and many of the British players have a chance to play at a much higher level of competition than their American counterparts. Following the match, the Brits went on to face Australia for the gold medal while the U.S. took on host-country Israel for the bronze. In front of a boisterous home crowd, the United States walked away with an easy victory, defeating the Israelis 43-03.
The experience was a unique and special one, and Shamah is sure to treasure it for the rest of his life. “I learned so much about rugby during those three weeks. Playing at such a higher level than what I was used to made me step up my game. The tournament itself has reignited my rugby passion, and I am sure that I will be playing for many more years to come. ”
Matches held at Wingate Stadium in Netanya, Israel
Sun., July 12 USA 34 – 13 Canada
Thu., July 16 USA 90 – 05 Chile
Sun., July 19 USA 03 – 16 Great Britain
Wed., July 22 USA 43 – 03 Israel*
*Bronze Medal Game