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The World Cup hullabaloo last month eclipsed another international sporting event in which, unlike the Cup, Israel was represented almost to the very end: The European Senior Bowling Championships (ESBC), held in Copenhagen on June 25-30.
The official Israeli delegation comprised nine players (and this correspondent's wife). We joined approximately 720 other male and female counterparts from Europe and South Africa, all of whom share a passion for competitive tenpin bowling and advanced age (50+) by athletic standards. The participants spent around 750,000 Euros and lugged more than 10,000 kilograms of equipment to the event.
Israel has a fine bowling industry, with some 20 centers hosting year-round competitive and social events and generating excellent players by world standards. Anglo-Israelis please take note: You are hardly represented among Israel's competitive bowlers, to the puzzlement of the intensely dedicated sabras (to join, visit www.ibf.org.il).
At the ESBC, all the Israeli forces save this reporter were home-grown. They resembled a Tourism Ministry diversity poster (male only, unfortunately) and the socioeconomics of the sport: eight of the nine either own their own businesses or practice white-collar professions at a high level. The ninth - our captain, Yishay Shimon - is an avuncular retired police commander. All took up bowling in middle age after years of other strenuous sports.
Casual bowling isn't rocket science but competitive bowling is. Don't laugh. Consistent performance entails mastery of projectile, launch technique, trajectory and target. If that isn't rocket science, what is?
The ESBC advertises itself as something far removed from rocketry - an event in which people compete not against each other but with each other. The tournament structure reflected the slogan: only final results mattered; team matchings didn't count. Thus, a crack men's team could be (and was) paired with an age 65+ women's group.
But the competition was for real, the range of scores within several percent of that of top amateur events in younger age cohorts. Three 300 (perfect) games were produced. The leading player, Roger Pieters of Belgium, produced a 215 average over 18 games.
The Israelis fell short of that but were quite competitive. Our best performer, Herzl Lavi of Holon, placed ninth in his age group with a 196 average. The others achieved within their normal range, collectively in the no-fame, no-shame vicinity of 175.
With a full week in town and 10 hours of competition spread over 3 days, the Israelis had plenty of time for other pursuits. It was no sweat all the way. After enduring a heat wave at the 2005 ESBC in Belgium, we made sure to choose the only air-conditioned hotel in Copenhagen, an establishment far from the downtown section of this breezy North European capital that finds little need to air-condition anything.
Our Israeli ways stood out. While practicing, one of our stalwarts cried "yalla yalla!" in delight after each strike. Danish children in the viewing area immediately adopted the novelty, raising their voices possibly for the first time in their lives. Another player climbed into a taxicab while eating a sandwich; the driver ordered him out and left the meter running until he finished the victuals. This correspondent and his wife boarded a train for a cruise around the town without understanding the fare system and inadvertently enjoyed a 54-kroner ride for the basic 18-kroner fare.
During the competition, real camaraderie often proved impossible due to the non-Israelis' poor English. Friendship was communicated by rituals: Palm-slapping after a good shot, tapping of a gently clenched fist in commiseration over a failure and the exchange of lapel pins bearing national emblems. One sensitive moment occurred when, at a meeting of captains and organizers, a Dutch federation chair loudly challenged Israel's bid to host the 2009 tournament on security grounds - and later apologized to our captain (privately).
And Copenhagen? A city at peace. Ubiquitous bicycles that when not in use are locked but not chained to anything; law-abiding, modest people who are willing to be tough when their nationhood is challenged; lax security; distressingly high prices; and a largely assimilated Jewish community with a vestigial Orthodox core.
Israel expects to rocket on to the next ESBC, scheduled for June 2007 in Palermo, Sicily.
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