Sergy Rikhter was the first Israeli to book his place at the 2012 London Olympics – now he just has to afford it.

The 22-year-old shooter secured his place at next summer’s Olympics way back in April of last year after finishing second in the 10-meter air rifle World Cup event in Changwon, South Korea.

As part of the Olympic Committee of Israel’s London 2012 squad, Rikhter receives NIS 5,000 a month, with the OCI also handing out bonuses reaching as much as NIS 100,000 for winning a gold medal at the World Championships.

However, for those like Rikhter who aren’t world or continental champions and struggle to find sponsors due to the unattractiveness of their sport, financing can be a real problem.

Rikhter’s coach Guy Starik, who is one of only two Israelis to compete in four Olympic Games, has never been able to be a full professional, always holding a day job in order to pay the bills and allow him to pursue his sporting dreams.

But Rikhter wants to be like his colleagues from abroad and fully focus on his sport ahead of London, hence his decision to try and acquire backing via the internet.

Rikhter is looking to raise NIS 50,000 until April 7 through the Israeli website Mimoona (http://www.mimoona.co.il/Projects/ 62) and after just a single week he has already been donated 18,865 shekels from 124 different supporters.

“I’ve been looking for a sponsor for a while and haven’t been able to find one so I thought to myself, why not? What have I got to lose?” Rikhter told me on Tuesday.

“I’m quite surprised of how well it has gone so far. It warms your heart to know that there are so many people who want to help.”

Besides promising to do his best to represent Israel with honor in London, Rikhter will also give his backers further value for their money.

For every 50 shekel contribution he will send out a signed thank you card, while 100 shekels will get you a T-shirt. For 200, you receive a chance to meet him and see him train and for 500 you’ll get a sponsorship badge for one of the year’s four World Cup events.

For 1,000 you’ll acquire a sponsorship badge at the 2014 Worlds, while 1,200 will grant you a private shooting lesson with Sergy, with 2,500 giving you a clinic with his coach Starik.

Rikhter will also appear in an advert for NIS 30,000, but he’s crossing his fingers that this will be the last time he resorts to gimmicks for money and that it won’t be long before he finally finds a real sponsor.

“I’m hopeful that the OCI will increase its support after these Olympics. If not, I will have to find a sponsor,” he said. “I don’t even want to think of the possibility that I’ll have to find a day job and be unable to focus on my sport. “I’m completely focused on the Olympics at the moment and I’ll worry about everything else after London.”

Starik believes Rikhter can be a top shooter for many years to come, but much will depend on whether he’ll be able to concentrate on his sport fully.

“I really missed out on never being a full professional,” Starik said. “I always had to work while training and competing. Instead of training twice a day like my rivals from abroad, I trained once a day because I had to work. I made slower progress. I only reached the world’s best after the age of 30, something which I could have done a lot sooner.

“I have no complaints to the OCI, but you can’t live off NIS 5,000 a month. In a faltering country like Serbia every European or World Championship medalist is given a pension from the age of 35 until the end of his life. Some countries give their athletes apartments.

“Sergy is the best air rifle shooter in the world for his age. He has already reached a very high level and still has a lot of room for improvement. He’s extremely talented.

If he continues to work hard he will be at the very top for many years and he’s the type of athlete the country should be investing in.”

That may well be the case.

But for the time being, Rikhter is waiting for your donations.

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