Michael Phelps-style problem for Hong Kong’s Krysia Allard after Maccabiah medal haul
American swimmer, 51, steps onto the podium eight times in Israel earlier this month having only returned to the pool this time last year
Like compatriot Michael Phelps having to deal with a record haul of Olympic Games medals, 51-year-old American Krysia Allard never envisaged having a similar problem to deal with prior to heading to Israel for the 20th edition of the Maccabiah earlier this month.
But after returning to Hong Kong with one gold, three silver and four bronze medals from eight swimming events in the 50-54 masters age group category some 35 years after coming anywhere near to competing in the water, the mother of two is already targeting a return to the event which is dubbed the ‘Jewish Olympics’ in four years.
“I saw the Maccabiah four years ago when I was in Israel for a personal trip and I watched the men’s futsal. They didn’t do very well, but I saw the camaraderie and all the Hong Kong families in Israel for the games and it was really fun,” said Allard, who paid US$6,200 for herself and her son Charlie to compete in the 13-day sporting extravaganza that attracts 10,000 participants from 85 countries competing across 41 sports.
“This time last year I decided I wanted to do the games. It was a big decision. I had swam in high school for two years, but got bored with it.
“I noticed I was getting stronger with dragon boating over the past five years and I could do butterfly really well so decided to go.”
Once the decision had been made to join the team from the Hong Kong, Macau and China chapter of the Maccabi World Union, Allard added three swimming sessions a week to the existing schedule that already included two for dragon boating.
She enlisted the help of Hong Kong Olympian Karen Robertson, who swam at the 1976 Games in Montreal, as well as Hong Kong International School (HKIS) director of swimming and coach Richard Pointon.
“I had to relearn all my strokes as everything has changed and become all about streamlining. It is more technique than power, although power helps,” said Allard, who has been in Hong Kong for the past five years with husband Charles, daughter Cassie and son Charlie.
“I was training at the HKIS with the juniors in the morning. There were only about four masters swimmers, so it was mainly high school students, but it helped with my speed.”
In Israel, she ventured into an 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool for the first time since her childhood.
“The first event was the 200m freestyle, but I went out too fast. I thought I was going slow, but I had nothing left in the end and won a bronze medal,” she said.
“I was nervous as I had not competed in 35 years.”
It did not take long to fine tune her competitive edge as Allard landed a gold in the 200m individual medley in her next outing, although with her family watching son Charlie compete in the junior futsal competition, she had to wait for the medal ceremony to learn the colour of the medal.
“The second race the next day was going to be the hardest of them all, which was the 200 individual medley. It felt amazing from the beginning,” she said.
“I just wanted to go slow and finish and I was very surprised to get a gold. I was too tired to look at the result and I didn’t have my glasses on. I only knew on the podium. I wasn’t called for third, and then second, and then I was called for gold.”
The medals kept flowing, which included combining with three other swimmers from Canada, Chile and Curacao to win further bronze and silver medals to go with her individual haul. Teams without a relay team of their own are allowed to combine with other nations to compete.
“I knew I could do well as I have always been fast compared to others my age, but I didn’t think I would medal in every event. My expectations were very much exceeded,” said Allard, who is the chairwoman of the parent teacher association at Elsa High School and member of the American Women’s Association dragon boat team, AWA Globe Paddlers.
Allard’s haul beat the return former Brazil Olympic swimming team member Anna Scherer claimed for Hong Kong in 2013, and took the delegations medal haul to a total of nine after China representative Matan Menashe Shoshani claimed bronze in the 3km open road race.
“I definitely want to do this again. I want to keep swimming now and go back in four years,” said Allard, who also visited Chinese ambassador Zhan Yongxin in Israel.
“When I came to Hong Kong I have never felt so connected to other people and the Jewish community is so tight. It has allowed me to do things that I never saw possible, like this. This was not on the radar when I was in the US.”
Krysia Allard at the 2013 Maccabiah