Elias Katz - Maccabist
Posted by Asaf Peled on
Elias (Eliyahu, Alo) Katz (1901–1947) was a Finnish-Jewish runner from Eretz Israel, an Olympic champion (Paris 1924) with two medals and a world record. Katz belonged to a group of Finnish athletes known as the "Flying Finns".
Katz was born in Turku, Finland in 1901, the son of Shlomo Zalman Katz and Malka Feinik. As a schoolboy he worked in the evenings as an assistant in a grocery store, and played football with his Jewish friends in the uniform of the Judiska Idrottssalskapet sports club. He is also known as an avid dancer. In his youth he did not succeed in short races, and therefore his coach advised him to try and participate in the longer races. He belonged to the Maccabi Helsinki club.
At the Paris Olympics (1924), Katz won his first Olympic gold medal with the Finnish national team in the team running competition.
In 1926, Katz set his personal best, in the 3,000-meter dash - 8: 35.8 minutes and the 3,000-meter hurdles - 9: 34.5 minutes, a result that ranked him at the end of the year in first place in the world. In July of that year, together with his teammates, he set a new world record of 16: 26.2 minutes in the 4x1500 meter relay. Five days later he and his teammates improved the world record and set it at 16: 11.4 minutes.
In 1927 he returned to his homeland to train with his Finnish friends for the Amsterdam Olympics (1928), but due to a severe foot injury he was prevented from participating and therefore returned to Berlin. He left Berlin with the rise of anti-Semitism in 1933 and immigrated to Israel via Turko, where he separated from his family and married in a fictitious marriage to obtain a certificate to immigrate to Israel. From there he reached Helsinki and sailed ashore.
In Israel, Katz worked as a simple worker after the sports organizations could not pay him for his employment as a coach. Together with his friends and brother Eliezer, he lived in Tel Aviv, on Hahashmal Street, in an apartment known as the "Immigrants' Apartment from Finland." He worked on the renovation of the Maccabiah Stadium in Tel Aviv, and managed the work of building the running track. Later, he worked as a sports coach at the Maccabi Association. He was selected to coach the London Olympics running team (1948).
In December 1947, while working as a filmmaker at a British military base in Moazi in the central Gaza Strip, he was killed by Arab rioters. He was buried in the old cemetery, "Taran" in Rehovot.
Katz was the first person killed on the streets during the War of Independence.