Golden Aspirations: Israel at the Beijing Olympics
By Sarah Sirota
The blue, black, red, yellow, and green rings fly above Beijing. They are calling out to all athletes, inviting them to join the prestigious Olympian circle. And Israel has answered.
This summer marks Israel’s 14th participation in the Summer Olympics. They are sending 38 of their best athletes to compete for the gold. It was only four years ago that they won their first ever Olympic gold, during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
That day, August 26, will forever be emblazoned in the hearts of all Israelis. It was a day when Israel stood on the highest podium and watched their flag rise above the Olympic stadium to the tune of their anthem, Hatikvah. Gal Fridman, the one who brought the gold home to Israel, stood where no Israeli had ever stood before, atop the Olympic platform and on top of the world. His fellow countrymen rushed forward to hug him, dance with him, and cry with him. Security tried to hold them back but nothing could stop them celebrating the achievement of the impossible.
It had seemed to be an impossible feat until then. Israel is not a country especially noted for its athletes; security is their stronghold. Israel’s best are usually winning the gold in that arena. But on that fateful day in Athens, Gal Fridman won his country a gold medal for his superb performance in windsurfing.
As Israel watched its flag wave above the stadium, tears began to fall. Finally winning the gold was the biggest tribute that they could pay to the memory of the 11 athletes and coaches who were murdered during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It was on September 5th, when five Arab terrorists sneaked into the Olympic village. Dressed in track suits, no one questioned them, assuming they were supposed to be there. They then knocked on the Israelis’ door. Wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg, opened it and immediately sensed that something was wrong. He and weightlifter, Joseph Romano attempted to block the way and give the others a chance to escape. However, they were quickly shot down by the terrorists and nine Israelis were taken as hostages.
The terrorists, a PLO faction called Black September, demanded the release of 200 Arab prisoners in exchange for the hostages. The ‘transaction’ was to take place at the airport. The Germans, who were expecting five terrorists, were caught unprepared when eight showed up. A bloody gunfight ensued. At three in the morning, a somber Jim McKay, who had been covering the drama throughout the day, announced, “They’re all gone.”
On August 26, however, Gal Fridman held a gold medal in his hand. He had won it for his fellow countrymen, athletes who were robbed of their chance to compete, and instead were led to their graves. When Fridman returned to Israel, he went to their memorial in Tel Aviv and shared the medal with them.
Now, four years later, Israel hopes to do it again. With newfound optimism and hope, they anticipate another gold medal for their country. Israel won its first medals in Barcelona in 1992, with Yael Arad bringing home the silver and Oren Smadja, the bronze, both in judo. In 1996, in Atlanta, Gal Friedman won the bronze in windsurfing. Four years later, in Sydney, Michael Kolganov won the bronze in canoeing. And then in the memorable 2004 Olympics, Gal Friedman won his country the gold, and Arik Ze’evi, the bronze in judo.
Israel has a total of six Olympic medals under their belt; three have been won in water sports and three in judo. This year, their top medal contenders again fall into those two categories. But they have also broadened their horizons, including tennis in the mix.
Shahar Peer is currently the 18th best female tennis player in the world. Her footwork and speed make her a tough opponent to beat. Having gone pro four years ago, the 21 year old has already competed in many events; including the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. This will be her Olympic debut and the first time Israel has ever posed a threat in the sport of tennis.
Another medal hopeful is judoka, Arik Ze’evi who won the bronze in the 2004 Olympics. However, having had shoulder surgery in 2005, many doubt whether he will be able to perform as well as before.
Gidi Klinger and Udi Gal are probably the most promising duo. Having won a bronze medal in each of the past three World 470 Class Sailing Championships, they now display the competence and maturity they had been lacking when they were competing in the 2004 Olympics. If they stay true to recent form, their sailing may be able to snag the gold.
All together, the athletes comprise the second largest group Israel has ever sent to represent their country at the Olympics; the largest being their 40-member team in 2000.
The 2008 Olympics will run from August 8-24, and will be aired on NBC. The following is a tentative list of the Israeli athletes who will be competing.
Track and Field
Alex Averbukh and Niki Palli
Arik Ze’evi, Gal Yekutiel, and Alice Schlezinger
Individual Rhythmic Gymnastics
Ira Risenzon and Neta Rivkin
Team Rhythmic Gymnastics
Kayta Pizatzki, Racheli Vidgorcheck, Maria Savnakov, Alona Dvorinchenko, and Veronica Witberg
Shahar Peer, Andy Rami, and Yoni Erlich
Tomer Or, Dalilah Hatuel, and Noam Mills
Doron Egozi, Gil Simokvic, and Guy Starik
Itay Chama, Gal Nevo, Guy Barnea, Tom Be’eri, Max Jaben, and Anja Gostamelsky
Anastasia Gloushkov and Ina Yoffe
Gidi Klinger, Udi Gal, Vered Buskila, Nika Kornitzky, Shahar Tzuberi, Ma’ayan Davidovich, and Nofar Eledman