AMERICAN WILL SWIM FOR MACEDONIA
Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, initiated the Jewish people's integration in Europe with his conquests in the East back in the fourth century BCE.
More than 2,300 years later modern day Macedonia is hoping it can show that it is still a force to be reckoned with when the country makes its Maccabiah Games debut next year.
US-born Macedonian Rob Williams is trying to build up a delegation to represent the Republic of Macedonia at the 18th Maccabiah Games in July.
The 29-year-old swimmer has Macedonian citizenship and, after recent success, is being considered for the Macedonian National Team having narrowly missed out on selection for Beijing.
The main obstacle to assembling the delegation is money. Currently the team is entirely self-funded, which has already deterred two potential members from Canada and Australia from joining due to the high costs involved in travelling.
Even so, Williams, who made aliya in 2001 but now lives in London, insisted "my expectations are still extremely high."
"I am trying to look into ways to find funding so that if other athletes are interested, we could bring them," he told The Jerusalem Post.
He is equally optimistic in terms of personal objectives. "A goal wouldn't be a goal without a gold medal set in sight," he said. "However, my aim is to better all my current personal bests and to be the best delegate I can be. Given results from past Games, medals are possible for me in the 400 freestyle, 200 breaststroke and 200 butterfly."
Although eligible to represent Great Britain at the Maccabiah, Williams is going to such lengths to form the new delegation because "it would bring new focus to a very small, but very important, Jewish community in a country I consider a second home. We will be an amazing and dynamic addition to the Maccabiah family."
Of the 2-million-strong population of Macedonia, only around 200 are Jews.
This would not only be Macedonia's first appearance at the so-called Jewish Olympics, but also Williams's Jewish international debut. Competing has always been a dream of his, however, "as the Games represent to me such a triumph of the Jewish spirit, uniting communities on every continent. I loved being a spectator, and I know I will cherish being an athlete."
In the meantime, he spoke enthusiastically of the advantages of fielding a Macedonian delegation.
"The Maccabiah experience will not only use sport to bring together the Macedonian community, but help introduce the Macedonian community to the world," he said.
While the search for athletes continues, Williams has been in contact with Stuart Lustigman, of the European Maccabi Confederation, to build up Maccabi activity within Macedonia.
Rob Williams can be contacted at email@example.com