Bereaved Mendel Swims for Father

BEIJING - Though technically still a teen for another 11 days, Israeli swimmer Alon Mendel, whose father tragically died last week when he fell from a ladder at home, has proven himself to be a man.

His conduct since the tragedy and insistence on participating in the Olympics has been noble; he is a force of nature. Someone unaware of the sad news would never have guessed that such a tragedy so recently befell the athlete. When he broke the Israeli record, however, he raised his hand and looked up, thanking his father. Perhaps later, behind closed doors, he may have shed a tear.

His teammates support him, and a psychologist has been trying to help Mendel cope with his loss. But in the end, no advice or help can take his mind off what must come: Seeing his mother's face at his father's funeral, which has been postponed until he comes home. Meanwhile, he is putting off his mourning so he "won't cause the guys to feel down," he said.

"Mendel is just a strong person," said Noam Zvi, chairman of the Israeli Swimming Association.

Anyone would understand if Mendel had achieved a bad score, or perhaps even an awful one, yesterday. Instead, he improved the Israeli record by four tenths of a second. And he is convinced he can still improve on that. Such strength can come from only one place - from home, from his father, Costa Mendel.

In tennis, heaven seemed to have taken a hand again yesterday, when a downpour started during the matches of Israeli duo Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich and singles player Tzipi Obziler. All were losing their matches, and only the rain kept them from defeat.

Many Israelis showed up to see Shahar Peer play and cheer her on. Later, they split up between Obziler and Erlich and Ram. During Peer's match, the 200 or so fans gave her a home court advantage. One American, who saw no one was supporting Peer's Romanian rival, decided to adopt her and cheered against Peer. Of course, the Israeli camp immediately said he was an anti-Semite. But Bob from Los Angeles was undaunted by the slurs launched at him from across the stands.

He likes tennis and came to watch a match. Then he instinctively decided to root for the underdog, a natural decision for any sports fan. He just did not know he was dealing with the Israelis.