BERGER, ISAAC ("Ike "; 1936– ), U.S. Olympic weightlifter, winner of one gold and two silver Olympic medals, member of U.S. Weightlifters Hall of Fame. Born in Jerusalem to a rabbi, Berger was lightly wounded by shrapnel during Israel's War of Independence in 1948, a year before his family moved to New York. Measuring only five feet tall as a teenager, Berger started lifting weights and soon began competing, winning the national aau championship from 1955 to 1961 and in 1964. He was the first featherweight to lift over 800 pounds and press double his own body weight. Berger won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympics, setting a record in the featherweight class (776.5 lbs. / 352.5 kg). The next year he won the gold medal at the 1957 Maccabiah Games and became the first athlete to establish a world record in Israel by pressing 258 pounds (117.1 kg.) in the featherweight class. He finished third that year in the world championships in the featherweight class but won the following year and again in 1961, while finishing second in 1959, 1963, and 1964. Berger also won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1959 and 1963. At the 1960 Olympic games, Berger won the silver medal lifting 798.75 pounds (362.6 kg.), losing to Yevgeny Minayev of the Soviet Union in a face-off that lasted 10 hours, until 4:00 a.m. Berger set an Olympic record at the 1964 games with a jerk of 336 pounds (152.5 kg.), which at a bodyweight of 130 pounds made him pound-for-pound the strongest man in the world, a record that stood for nine years. He also won a silver medal in the featherweight class (841.5 lbs. / 382.5 kg.). Berger was inducted into the U.S. Weightlifters Hall of Fame in 1965 and that same year started a program at the New York College of Music to become a cantor.
[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]