By Gideon Rubin
Tal Braude took home an impressive collection of hardware from the Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer.
The Torrey Pines High senior track and cross country standout won gold medals in the 1,500-meters and 3 kilometer events and was a member of a 4x400 relay team that won the bronze in the under-18 divisions.
He also returned with a nice collection of memories that he believes better connects him with his cultural identity.
“I got so much,” he said. “The point of this competition is to get as many people involved in it so that participants connect to their (Jewish) heritage.”
Braude dialed into his roots on visits to iconic landmarks in Jerusalem’s Old City and travels to other historic locations, including the Dead Sea.
The competition brought elite Jewish athletes from around the world for a competition Braude described as the “Jewish Junior Olympics.”
The event included an orientation period where athletes from around the world bonded and learned about their Jewish cultural identity,
“I made friends from different continents,” he said. “We instantly became friends.”
But they quickly turned into fierce competitors.
“The competition was more intense than I expected,” he said. “In Israel this is one of the biggest races.”
Braude believes the Maccabiah Games contributed to his development as a runner.
“I’m racing against people from different countries and different continents,” he said. “You’re seeing what kind of training they do and what kind of strategies they use. It helps me see more of the sport on a global scale.”
The event marked the first time Braude’s relatives abroad got to see him race competitively. All but his immediate family, who live in Israel and South Africa, got to see him compete at the Maccabiah Games.
“It was really amazing to have them watch me,” he said.
Braude trained for the event under Daniel Farmer, Torrey Pines’ assistant cross country coach and the track team’s distance coach.
“I messaged (Farmer) daily and he told me what I needed to do,” Braude said.
Braude, who just started his senior year, is considered an elite Division I prospect. He’s already been in contact with coaches from Stanford, Georgetown and Arizona State, among others.
Right now, however, he’s focused on making an impact on the Falcons’ cross country and track teams. He hopes to lead Torrey Pines to the state meet and compete in the Foot Locker Invitational later in the year.
Braude established himself as an elite prep runner last season, placing fifth in the 3,200 meters.
He said he’d like to compete in the Junior Track World Championships next summer.
And he’s given some thought to the possibility of trying out for a 2016 Rio Olympics berth on Israel’s national team.
“I want to compete for the U.S. national team, but if there’s any doubt and something happens and that’s not a possibility it would be a great honor for me to compete for Israel,” he said. “It’s my home and it’s the pride of the Jewish people.”
He wouldn’t be the first Jewish American athlete to follow that patch — “And I wouldn’t be the first Tal Braude,” he said.
A basketball player with a similar-sounding name played for the Israeli national team in the 1970s. Talbot “Tal” Brody played for the Israeli national team in a 1976 pre-Olympic qualifying tournament.
He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 and the United States National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
“He kind of put (the Israeli national team) on the map,” Braude said.
Tal Brody was a Maccabiah Games regular in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“During the races when I got my medal they’d say ‘what’s your name’ and I said ‘Tal Braude.’
“They’d laugh and say, ‘No really, do you know who that is?’”