By Mark Mietkiewicz ~
This year’s Israeli delegation is far different from the one the country sent when it first competed in Helsinki in 1952. Back then, the most notable achievement was by Yoav Ra’anan, who took ninth place in springboard diving. [http://bit.ly/jolymp40] Over the next four decades, participating was Israel’s main objective.
But Israel doesn’t just want to participate nowadays. It wants to win. But before Israelis get to compete internationally, they have to get past people like Gili Lustig. Lustig has rejected athletes unless he feels they have a good shot at winning. “After more than 20 years of activity for the [government’s] Elite Sport Department, we can say with confidence that the athletes representing us in the games are the best; the ones that withstood the hardest tests we set for them, in world championships and European championships. We’re going to the games to win.” Lustig’s resolve doesn’t make him popular with everyone. He’s had to defend his choices before the Israel Olympic Committee, as well as in Israeli courts, including the High Court of Justice. [http://bit.ly/jolymp43]
Lustig is a supporter of a 2010 Israel Olympic Committee resolution that calls for stringent competition guidelines. This coincided with three goals the Committee laid out for the London Olympics:
1) “We want to take home a medal, which we have done during the last five Olympics.” 2) “We want a female candidate on the medal podium for the first time since judoka Yael Arad.” (1992, Barcelona)
3) “We want a medal in a sport that we have not won yet.” [http://bit.ly/jolymp44]
You can see the faces of the athletes they are relying on at the Israel Olympic Committee official site. [http://bit.ly/jolymp29] Most of the site is in Hebrew but there are a handful of pages in English. [http://bit.ly/jolymp30] And even if you don’t speak Hebrew, don’t miss the dozens of videos of the athletes in action. [http://bit.ly/jolymp31]
The best English site to read about the current Israeli team is at Wikipedia. Each competitor is listed and many are linked to their own entries. [http://bit.ly/jolymp32]
So who are some of the athletes to watch? Here are some brief portraits:
- Windsurfer Lee Korzits “made history by becoming the first female Israeli world champion at any sport, and the youngest surfer to ever win the world title.” In 2009, her career was in jeopardy when she was hit by another surfer and broke two ribs. After rehabilitation, she returned to competition and will represent Israel this summer. [http://bit.ly/jolymp33]
- Ariel Ze’evi is back. The three-time European champion won bronze in Athens in 2004 in judo. Watch him take on the competition in some great video at judovision.org. [http://bit.ly/jolymp34]
- Last year Neta Rivkin made history when she became the first Israeli to win a medal at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships. Her reaction: “Words cannot describe what I’m feeling and my joy. I have a powerful desire to bring more achievements to our small and beautiful land.” [http://bit.ly/jolymp35]
- And you really have to admire the stamina of Sergy Rikter. The world-class shooter knows how to excel with an air rifle. But when training funds were short, Rikter took matters into his own hands and set up a website to solicit funds to help finance his Olympic dream. [http://bit.ly/jolymp36] Things seem to have worked out since Rikter has been selected for Israel’s delegation to London. [http://bit.ly/jolymp42]
Over the years, Israel has won seven medals in three sports: judo, sailing and canoeing. That’s not bad but perhaps if some other categories were introduced into the Games, Israelis and Jews everywhere could do even better. If Stuart Spector had his way, Jewish events would
- Balance Beam: The accountant or bookkeeper that balances my mother’s checkbook in the shortest amount of time will be declared winner.
- Oyga Vault (say it out loud): A sound-enhanced pole vault competition, in which the vaulter gains extra points for exclaiming, “Oy, such tsuris this is causing me!”
And my favourite, what must be a truly grueling competition:
- Naches Shlep: Proud bubbes and zaydehs have two minutes to boast about their grandchildren. [http://bit.ly/jolymp39]
Mark Mietkiewicz writes about the Internet. He can be reached at email@example.com.