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Monday, July 19, 2021

Jewish Olympic Medalists in Boxing

With the Olympics (finally) starting later this week, here is a list with short bios of Jewish Olympic medalists in boxing.

Samuel Berger - 1904 - Heavyweight - USA - Gold
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1884 and died in San Francisco, California in 1925. Berger had a brief pro career in which he fought Hall of Famer Philadelphia Jack O'Brien to a newspaper draw in a six-rounder. He then stayed in boxing as an instructor, referee, and promoter. He promoted heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries.

Sam Mosberg - 1920 - Lightweight - USA - Gold
Born in 1896 in Austria and died in Brooklyn, New York in 1967. Mosberg (sometimes spelled Mossberg) was a pro for just under three years and had at least 31 fights. His prizefighting career featured mixed results including a 12-round loss on points to the respectable Mel Coogan. Mosberg served as the U.S. boxing coach in the 1953 Maccabiah Games.

Moe Herscovitch - 1920 - Middleweight - Canada - Bronze
Born in Montreal, Canada in 1897 and died in Montreal in 1969. He fought at least 27 fights in three and a half years as a pro. He went 3-1 against Bert Schneider, who won a gold medal at welterweight in the same Olympics. Herscovitch was stopped by future middleweight and light heavyweight champion Mickey Walker in 1923. He also had a career as a rugby player. After his pro career, he became a boxing coach at the local YMHA.

Jackie Fields - 1924 - Featherweight - USA - Gold
Born in 1908 in Chicago, Illinois, he died in 1987 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fields was the youngest even Olympic gold medalist in boxing. He was an all-time great as a professional boxer. He won the world welterweight championship twice and was inducted in the Boxing Hall of Fame. He had at least 86 prizefights in his eight year career. He spent the next two years as a referee. He later coached the 1965 U.S. boxing team at the Maccabiah Games.

Harry Isaacs - 1928 - Bantamweight - South Africa - Bronze
Born in 1908 in Johannesburg, South Africa and died in 1961 in Johannesburg. Isaacs was initially declared the winner of his semifinal match in Amsterdam against American John Daley. But American fans were so upset about the decision they rioted. Despite a counterriot in favor of Isaacs, the decision was overturned and Isaacs was relegated to the bronze medal match. Isaacs didn't fight as a pro but trained Jewish orphans when he returned home. He later trained famed South African boxer Alf James.

Harold Devine - 1928 - Featherweight - USA - Bronze
Born in 1909 in New Haven, Connecticut and died in 1998 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Devine was a good regional boxer, winning the New England welterweight title. The southpaw split fights with Chick Suggs early in his career and later fought Baby Joe Gans and Jack Portney. Four times he beat the not-so-legendary Pancho Villa (of New Bedford, Mass). After 60 pro fights, Devine stayed in boxing as a trainer, manager, and judge.

(Michael) Jacob Michaelsen - 1928 - Heavyweight - Denmark - Bronze 
Born in 1899 in Sundby, Denmark and died in 1970 in Frederiksberg, Denmark. Michaelsen won bronze in the 1927 European championships and gold in the 1930 European championships. There is no record of him turning pro.

Nathan Bor - 1932 - Lightweight - USA - Bronze
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1913 and died in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1972. As a pro, Bor was a solid regional fighter, campaigning mostly in New England with two sustained trips out to California during his eight-year, 50-fight career. He started 30-2 as a pro against mediocre competition. Nat's success in the ring dwindled as the opponents' level slightly increased. He joined the marines and fought overseas during World War II.

Gyula Torok - 1960 - Flyweight - Hungary - Gold
Born in Kispest, Hungary in 1938 six years after the previous Jewish boxing Olympic medalist and died in 2014 in Budapest. Torok never turned pro, but had a long and distinguished amateur career. He won silver at the 1959 European championships. He fought in the 1964 Olympics as a bantamweight, but lost in the opening round due to injury. After retiring in 1967, he became a boxing coach and helped the Hungarian national team.

Gyorgy Gedo - 1972 - Light flyweight - Hungary - Gold
Born in 1949 in Budapest, Hungary, he is 72 years old. He fought in the 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980 Olympics. He was the first boxer to fight in four, and no boxer has fought in more. Gedo won the 1969 and 1971 European championships and finished third in 1975. The aggressive southpaw made the quarterfinals in the '76 & '80 Olympics. Gedo never fought as a pro.

Victor Zilberman - 1976 - Welterweight - Romania - Bronze
Born in 1947 in Bucharest, Romania, he is 73 years old. Zilberman fought in the 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympics. He earned silver medals in the European championships in 1969 and in 1975. His citizenship was revoked shortly after winning his medal and found a new home in Montreal, Canada. He didn't turn pro. He moved to Toronto to help Adrian Teodorescu train boxers, including Lennox Lewis when he was an amateur. His Romanian citizenship was later restored.

Shamil Sabirov - 1980 - Light Flyweight - Soviet Union - Gold
Born in 1959 in Karpinsk, Soviet Union, he is 62 years old. Sabirov (also spelled Sabyrov) won gold at the 1979 European championships and bronze at the 1981 European championships. He retired from boxing in 1985 and didn't fight as a pro. He earned a PhD in exercise science and spent some time as a boxing referee.

*I included boxers on this list that are featured on other lists of this kind as long as there was no information excluding them from being Jewish. For info on Bert Schneider please check out a forthcoming post Olympic Boxers: Jew or Not, 

*Most of the boxers on this list obviously identified as Jewish according to profiles of these men. 

*Michaelsen is included on most of the lists of Jewish Olympic medalists in boxing. His name is sometimes written with Jacob, Jakob, or Michael as his first name. Sometimes Jacob or Michael is included as a middle name. After an extensive search, I could find no record in which he identified as Jewish, but I couldn't find anything to suggest he didn't identify as Jewish, either. 

*Sabirov is also on most of the lists of Jewish boxing Olympic medalists. After much research, I could find nothing that proves or disproves whether he identifies as Jewish. Some sources describe his ethnicity as Tatar.

*Any concrete information about Michaelsen or Sabirov is welcomed.

*There is a Victor Zilberman, born in 1947, who immigrated to Canada in the mid-1970s, settling in Montreal and became a well-respected wrestling coach. Believe it or not, this is not that same Victor Zilberman who won the bronze medal at the '76 Olympics.

The wrestler, born in March of ''47 in Chisinau, Soviet Union (now Moldova), won a bronze medal as a wrestler for Israel in the 1974 world (wrestling) championships. He won silver at the 1978 Commonwealth Games for Canada. He earned his PhD and coached the Canadian Olympic team on multiple occasions. His son David wrestled in the 2008 Olympics. He also trained Georges St-Pierre.

The boxer was born on September 20, 1947 in Bucharest. After a falling out with Teodorescu, he became an optometric technician and still enjoys watching the fights. Some sources confuse the two Victor Zilbermans.

Some additional information:
Article on Samuel Berger
Article on Sam Mosberg
Article on Moe Herscovitch
Article on Jackie Fields
Article that includes Harry Isaacs (second bio down)
Article on Harold Devine
Article on Nathan Bor
Article on Gyula Torok
Paragraph on Gyorgy Gedo
Article on Victor Zilberman (in Romanian)

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