Israel delegation to return from Baku to hero’s welcome

More than 6,000 athletes from 50 nations competed at the European Games, with Israel sending over 140 athletes, its largest ever delegation to a sporting event.

June 29, 2015 01:43
2 minute read.
European Games Baku

Members of the Israeli delegation parade during the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 European Games at the Olympic Stadium in Baku. (photo credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Olympic Committee of Israel Secretary-General Gili Lustig could finally afford to sit back and enjoy the closing ceremony of the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Sunday night, knowing the delegation he headed far exceeded expectations over the 16 days of competition.

More than 6,000 athletes from 50 nations competed in Baku, with Israel sending over 140 athletes, its largest ever delegation to a sporting event.

The Israeli delegation claimed 12 medals in all, two golds, four silvers and six bronzes, with 12 other athletes also reaching finals.

“We amassed 12 medals, a lot more than we predicted, with two athletes also booking their place at Rio 2016,” said Lustig.

“Our greatest success was that we showed we have depth.”

Judoka Sagi Muki won Israel’s first gold medal at the European Games on Friday, with 18-yearold swimmer, Ziv Kalontarov, also claiming a gold while securing his place in Rio next year. Shooter Sergey Richter was the other Israeli to book his place in the 2016 Olympics, with the national rhythmic gymnastics team responsible for a quarter of the delegation’s medals, claiming two silvers and one bronze.

“All our athletes picked up valuable experience in a multi-sport event,” said Lustig. “However, we must remember that this was an event with 50 European nations and this was not the Olympics where there are athletes from 205 nations and the level of competition is much higher.”

The OCI believes that there will be between 35 and 40 athletes in the Israeli delegation to Rio, with around half of them to benefit from their experience of participating in the European Games.

“We are judged according to results and when you manage to exceed expectations you have every reason to be pleased,” said Lustig. “However, we are not getting carried away because we know that there is still a lot more of hard work to be done before Rio.”

Meanwhile, the success of the first European Games has put Azerbaijan on the world and European map, according to Youth and Sport Minister Azad Rahimov.

“I’m very proud of what has been achieved in Baku and the positive feedback we have been getting,” Rahimov said in a statement.

“It has been a success for Azerbaijan and will be a launch pad for future sporting events we will host. The coverage... and the positive messages we have sent have really highlighted Azerbaijan on the world and European map.”

Next year Azerbaijan will host a Formula One race through the streets of Baku, the 42nd Chess Olympiad and soccer’s European Under-17 Championship. It will also stage matches in soccer’s Euro 2020 competition.

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