track and field
One of Israel's greatest Olympic athletes, Roth was the first Israeli to reach an Olympic final in a track and field event. She competed in the 100-meter sprint and 100-meter hurdles at two Olympiads for Israel in the 1970s. At the 1972 Munich Games, Roth won her first-round heat in the 100-meter sprint (11.45), and then advanced to the semifinals after placing fourth in her quarterfinal heat (11.48). In the semifinals, she tied the fourth-place finisher with a time of 11.49, but did not advance to the final (only the top four finishers advanced). Roth then competed in the 100-meter hurdles and advanced to the semifinals before tragedy befell the Games.
On September 4, the day before the semifinals of the hurdles competition, Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and took members of the Israeli delegation hostage. The next night, 11 Israelis were dead, including Roth's coach of seven years, Amitzur Shapira. Esther and the rest of the Israeli women's team escaped harm because they stayed in a separate building. She later observed: "...we did not know any more about what was happening than anyone else. There was no accurate news. The loudspeakers kept making routine announcements about sporting events. They kept playing music." Esther withdrew from competition following the attack.
In 1997, Roth told the Jerusalem Post she had been disturbed at the decision of Olympic officials to continue the competition after the attack on the Israeli athletes but changed her mind following the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games. She said, "I came to the conclusion that when terror strikes or accidents occur at a sporting event of national and international significance perhaps there is no other choice than to carry on...In spite of the pain of the wounded and their loved ones, do we have any alternative but to carry on? After all, there is always the possibility that something will happen. We will never be able to protect ourselves from the unexpected."
Roth returned to the Olympics four years after Munich at the Montreal Games and competed exclusively in the 100-meter hurdles. By this time, Esther was one of the best hurdlers in the world and she entered the Olympics with the ninth fastest time in 1976 (13.09). In Montreal, she exceeded all expectations by finishing with the best result in Israeli history and became a hero in Israel. In her preliminary heat, Roth finished second with an Israeli record of 13.06, and then lowered the record in the semifinals to 13.04. In her semifinal, she finished fourth and advanced to the final, becoming the first Israeli to ever reach an Olympic final in a track and field event. In the final, she finished in sixth place and tied her own national record with a time of 13.04; it was the greatest Israeli result in a major Olympics sport until the 1990s.
One of Israel's greatest athletes of the 1970s, as of March 2001, Roth still held the Israeli national record in five events: the indoor 50-meter (6.4), indoor 60-meter (7.1), 100-meter (11.45), 200-meter (23.57), and 100-meter hurdles (12.93). She dominated the 1969 Maccabiah Games, winning the gold medal in the the 100-meter, 200-meter, and long jump. At the 1970 Asian Games, Roth captured gold medals in the hurdles, and pentathlon, and a silver medal in the long jump. In 1973, she returned to the Maccabiah Games and won gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter. At the 1977 Maccabiah Games, Roth set records in the 100-meter hurdles, 200-meters, and 4x100-meters. Named Israeli Sportswoman of the Year three times by the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, she won the Israel Prize for Sports, the country's highest prize, in 1999.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. April 16, 1952
Tel Aviv, Israel
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
New York Times, August 28-September 10, 1972
New York Times, July 19-July 30, 1976