The sky’s no limit for this record-breaking teen athlete

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Tom Tugend | JTA

Joshua Jayden “JJ” Harel, newly 14 and standing at 6-foot-2, expects to face some tough competition when the Olympics return to Los Angeles in 2028. But his first decision will be whether to march into the Olympic stadium under the American, Australian or Israeli flag.

JJ Harel decked out in his medals. (Lucy Harel)

JJ inherited his triple citizenship through his father, Oren, 47, born in Houston, and his mother, Lucy, a native Australian. Oren Harel spent his formative years in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Afterwards, he attended Cornell University, where he met Lucy. After two years in Manhattan, and following Sept. 11, the couple moved to Sydney for 10 years, where all three of their children were born. They relocated as a family to Israel for two years before moving to Los Angeles in 2013.

JJ won 27 international medals in competitions over the past year alone. At the Maccabiah Games in Israel, he placed first in high jump and second in triple jump in the under-18 category after needing special permission to participate since he was underage. Then there was the record-breaking high jump that earned him a profile this in The Los Angeles Times.

Finally, last month, he participated in the American Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympics, one of the largest youth track-and-field competitions in the world. There, he won three gold medals and cleared 6 feet and 5 inches in the high jump, breaking a record for the 14-and-under age group that had stood for 42 years (he was still 13 at the time). Harel won gold in the triple jump and javelin as well, and he was the only athlete to achieve All American status in five events.

Oren Harel noted that JJ’s grandfather worked for NASA for about 20 years starting in the early 1970s, contributing research to the “Voyager 2” and “Galileo” space-exploration projects.

“Sometimes, I say a joke when people ask me about [JJ’s] ability,” related Oren Harel. “I tell them his grandfather worked for NASA; maybe that’s how he learned the secret on how to defy gravity.”

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