Passages: Nachum Buch, First Israeli Olympic Swimmer, Age 89

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Photo Courtesy: Competitor

Passages: Nachum Buch, First Israeli Olympic Swimmer, Age 89

Nachum Buch, the first swimmer to represent Israel at the Olympics, died on Nov. 7 in his home in Australia. He was 89 years of age.

Buch was a pioneer for Israeli swimming, representing the young nation at its first Olympics in 1952. He was the only swimmer among 25 athletes in that first delegation, and though he didn’t make it out of his head in the 100 freestyle at the Helsinki Olympics, he blazed a trail for many to follow.

His competitive career was only part of his contributions, as he served as a long-time coach and official. He coached Israel’s national team, including at the 1968 Olympics, and at Israeli club Brit Maccabim Atid, where he swam as a child after starting at Hapoel Tel Aviv. He began helping with instruction of younger swimmers when he was just 13 years old and was an interim coach of his club at age 15.


He emigrated to Australia in 1974, after marrying an Australian woman he met on vacation, and lived in Melbourne at the time of his death. He coached first at Mount Scopus College in Burwood, then at Maccabi-AJAX Swimming Club in the state of Victoria until 1994. He is survived by two sons and three grandchildren.

“The entire Israeli swimming family mourns the passing of one of our greatest swimmers – a man who set a path for all of us, and was the first to tread paths that no Israelis had walked before,” Israel Swimming Association president Michael Halika said. “We intend to commemorate his memory during the upcoming Israeli national swimming championships.”

Born Nahum David Norbert Buch in Kassel, Germany in 1932, he moved with his parents to Tel Aviv as young child. He began swimming at age 10 and set Israeli swimming records starting at age 15. He was named the best athlete at the 1950 Maccabiah Games, one of 15 in which he participated. He swam in three installments, played water polo twice, coached Australia’s delegation to the Games and also served as an official. (Maccabi Australia has established the Nachum Buch Scholarship Fund to benefit young swimmers.)

Buch carried the Maccabi flag at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem. He was an avid sportsman well into his later years, playing volleyball and lawn bowling with fellow seniors and traveling back to Israel annually.

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