Water sports in Israel have enjoyed immense popularity in recent years, with the
most divers per capita in the world and athletes winning Olympic gold medals and
world championships in windsurfing and kitesurfing.
But while these
sports crowd the headlines and fill up tourism pamphlets, athletes and officials
at the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv are quietly pushing for similar
For over 150 years, thousands of fans line the banks of the
Thames river for the annual boat race between the Oxford and Cambridge
University boat clubs, and then again for the Henley Royal Regatta, an
international tournament drawing top-schools from the USA like Harvard and the
University of Washington.
The activity at the Daniel Rowing Center is
tranquil by comparison. The tradition there dates back about ten years, one side
is dedicated to rowing, the other to kayaking and outside are a fleet of dragon
They have about 100 boats total, two training areas, weight rooms
and conference centers.
“Rowing started to move [in Israel] only after
this center was built,” said Eitan Gluzman, general manager of Daniel Rowing
Center and president of the Israeli Rowing Federation.
“It’s quite a
difficult sport to do. You have to put in a lot of time, be very determined and
it’s not a group sport.”
Although many rowing events in America and
Britain take place in eights and sometimes fours, Israel’s Olympic hopes revolve
around two athletes: Dani Fridman and Oleg Gonorovsky.
“Both of them
hopefully will sit in a double and then we can qualify for the Olympic Games,”
Fridman in particular has done his country right this year.
Taking gold medals in the Israeli championship for the ninth year in a row, he
was also a gold medalist in the Catalonia Open, the Croatia Open, took bronze in
the Italian Open championship and fifth in the German Open in Essen.
list of accolades goes on.
Winning the Israeli championship has become a
sort of annual tradition for Friedman, who is ranked sixth in Europe right now,
but his impressive rowing resume is lacking a crucial element: an Olympic medal.
The Daniel Rowing Center wants to fix that.
“It’s not just [going] to
train it’s all day, you learn from everything,” Fridman said. “it’s not just a
sport, it’s a spirit.”
The Daniel Rowing Center wants that spirit spread
all over Israel. To do that they organized “the sea of friends,” a PR campaign
of sorts, recruiting potential rowers to a sport constantly undermined by
basketball, soccer and tennis.
The goal is to spread nautical activities
all over the country, Gluzman said, and place “the disabled people, the
underprivileged people alongside with the champions.”
For the athletes,
the Daniel Rowing Center is something far more simple: it’s a
“They’re trying to take an individual sport in Israel, which is
very hard to push, and just push it,” said paralympic athlete Moran Samuel, who
trains at the Daniel Rowing Center.
“For me as a disabled person it’s the
only place I can train. Everything here is wheelchair friendly, even the
“It’s unique in Israel to have a facility that holds everything
inside. the gym, the weight lifting, the rowing, the machines. When you have
everything in one place it’s much easier to do the best you can.”
and Fridman agree: training for Rio drains you. Fridman had to quit his job as a
surf instructor and lifeguard to train full time,receiving a small stipend from
the Israel Rowing Federation.
“It’s like work. You come at like six in
the morning, you come to the club, go to the training session,” he said. ”After
this you go and rest a little bit. After this you begin the second
With the future for Israeli rowing brightening on step at a
time, Gluzman and Fridman know they have to take things one race at a
This week, Fridman competes in the Maccabiah games against major
threats from the USA and others while next month he will be at the World
Championship in South Korea.
With the help of the Daniel Rowing Center,
step by step Israeli rowing seems to be blazing its trail to the Olympics.