The future of Olympic sports in Israel will be on display over the next two weeks at the second Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
The opening ceremony will take place on Saturday, with over 3,500 athletes from 204 countries to compete in 28 sports between August 16-28.
Israel has sent 14 athletes to China in the hope of emulating at least some of the success from four years ago at the first Youth Olympics in Singapore.
The Israeli delegation returned with seven medals in 2010, four of them gold.
High jumper Dima Kroyter, Taekwondo fighter Gili Haimovitz and windsurfer Mayan Rafic were all crowned Olympic champions, while swimmer Yakov Toumarkin took two silver medals.
Rotem Shor won a bronze in the judo team competition, while Fanny Beisaron claimed a gold in the triathlon team event.
Eight boys and six girls between the ages of 14 and 18 will represent Israel in Nanjing in athletics, judo, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, table tennis, triathlon, archery and windsurfing.
“First and foremost this should be a building experience for them,” Olympic Committee of Israel Secretary General Gili Lustig told The Jerusalem Post. “This should be another step in their progress as athletes.”
Among Israel’s medal candidates are 15-year-old windsurfer Yoav Omer, who was crowned as European youth champion last month and will carry the Israel flag in Saturday’s opening ceremony.
Linoy Ashram (15) is entering the Olympics on the back of claiming two bronze medals at the rhythmic gymnastics European youth championships, while 18-year-old swimmer Ido Haber holds the national youth records in the 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events.
“I’m feeling good and I hope to improve my personal bests and enjoy this amazing experience,” said Haber. “I’m just 18 and this is as good as it gets. My dream is to take part in the real Olympics one day.”
Lustig believes that many of the athletes in Nanjing will also one day represent Israel as seniors at future Olympics.
“We saw the importance of the youth games at the London Olympics,” he said.
Toumarkin, who won two medals in Singapore, realized his dream and reached London 2012. Not only did he compete in the Games, but he also recorded the best result ever for an Israeli swimmer, finishing the 200-meter backstroke final in seventh place.
“From that standpoint we succeeded earlier than expected because the target for these youngsters is to reach the Olympics which are held six years after the youth games,” noted the 22-year-old Toumarkin.
“It is hard to predict what might happen in sport, but I have no doubt that a significant percentage of the athletes competing in Nanjing will be part of the Israel delegation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”