The preparations for this summer’s Rio Olympics are about to enter their final stretch, with the Israel delegation to take what will be its close-to-final shape over the upcoming month.
While the Olympic Committee of Israel has yet to set its specific goals for success at the 2016 Games, OCI Secretary General Gili Lustig is already confident Israeli athletes will meet their initial expectations, with just over four months remaining to the Opening Ceremony in Brazil.
“I can say with certainty that we will exceed our goal of sending between 35-40 athletes to Rio,” he told The Jerusalem Post
. “I’m sure we will have over 40. We will also meet our target that around half of the delegation will be women. We should also have representation in two-to-three new events, which was another of our goals. We will certainly have someone in golf and will hopefully also send mountain bikers, rowers and triathletes.”
The focus this week on the Olympic front is on the prestigious Trofeo Princesa Sofia sailing event in Palma de Mallorca.
The identity of Israel’s representatives in the men’s and women’s windsurfing competitions in Rio will be decided following Saturday’s medal race in Mallorca, with the event also serving as a final opportunity for Israel’s 470 Class women’s team and Laser Radial sailor to book their places in Rio.
Shahar Zubari, who won a bronze medal at Beijing 2008 and also represented Israel at London 2012, brought a 22-11.25 lead over rival Nimrod Mashiah to Mallorca, which is the fifth and final test event in the battle between the two.
With 25 points on offer for a gold medal in Mallorca, 20 for a silver and 15 for a bronze, Mashiah will have to finish on the podium to have any chance of overtaking Zubari.
Mashiah sits in fifth place after the second day, with Zubari in 10th.
Mashiah attacked his rival in a Facebook post on Tuesday, claiming he intentionally tried to slow him down contrary to an agreement between the two. “Shahar proved today that his word is worthless and spat in the face of the sailing establishment, sport and the State of Israel,” wrote an infuriated Mashiah.
Ma’ayan Davidovich, the only local female windsurfer to have picked up any points (10.5) to date, is in fifth place, with her nearest Israeli rival being Noy Drihan in 18th.
The upcoming weeks will also be decisive for Israel’s artistic gymnasts, including Alex Shatilov. The former European Champion and World Championship medalist, who took part in the Beijing and London Olympics, has yet to secure his place in Rio and will have one final chance to do so in the Olympic Test Event to be held in the host city from April 16.
There are so far 19 Israelis who have officially booked their ticket to Rio, six in track and field (Tesama Moogas [marathon], Donald Sanford [400m], Dmitry Kroytor [high jump], Korlima Chemtai [marathon], Marharyta Dorozhon [javelin], Hanna Knyazyeva- Minenko [triple jump]), six in rhythmic gymnastics (Neta Rivkin [individual], Yuval Filo, Alona Koshevatskiy, Ekaterina Levina, Karina Lykhvar and Ida Mayrin [team]), five swimmers (Yakov Toumarkin, Gal Nevo, Ziv Kalontarov, Amit Ivry and Andrea Murez), one shooter (Sergey Richter) and one Taekwondo fighter (Ron Atias). There are others like judoka Yarden Gerbi who have yet to officially clinch their spot, but have effectively also secured their berth.
The Olympics in Rio present a complex logistical challenge, but Lustig is confident the OCI is ready.
“Logistically these Olympics are very complicated because there are no direct flights from Israel to Rio. That makes it more difficult to arrange our arrivals and departures and the flights are also very expensive,” he noted.
For the first time, a memorial ceremony for those killed during the Olympics, including the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the Munich Olympics in 1972, will be held at the Olympic Village.
There will also be a ceremony on August 14 at the Rio City Hall led by the Olympic Committee of Israel and the Israeli consulate.
Up until these upcoming Games, the memory of the murdered Israelis was never marked during the Games at an official Olympic venue, with this year’s ceremony in the village to also honor German police officer Anton Fliegerbauer who was killed in Munich, the two people killed at the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Games and Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who suffered a fatal crash during a training run for the 2010 Winter Olympics competition in Whistler, Canada.
The IOC also announced that a “moment of reflection” in honor of all dead Olympians will be held during the Closing Ceremony.
“There will be no minute of silence at the Opening Ceremony,” read an IOC note, frustrating a longtime request of families. “We will dedicate a moment during the closure ceremony to allow everyone at the stadium and everyone watching at home to remember their loved ones that have passed away.”
Lustig said the OCI is in constant contact with the representatives of the widows, Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, while also negotiating with the IOC.
“I think we have made significant progress this year as for the first time there will be a ceremony held in the Olympic Village to mark the memory of those killed during Olympic Games,” said Lustig.
After failing to claim a medal at London 2012, snapping a streak of five editions of the Games at which at least one Israeli scaled the podium, the goal for Rio is clear. Even though the delegation is far from complete and plenty more can happen until the August 5 Opening Ceremony, Lustig understands that it will be hard to brand the Rio Games as a success should the Israeli delegation return home empty-handed once more.
“Our expectations are still general at this stage, but we want to return with a medal once more and are hoping for between eight and 10 finals, which is around a quarter of the delegation,” he said just before entering another meeting to discuss one more of the countless aspects of Rio 2016.[email protected]