Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov.
(photo credit: OCI)
The opening ceremony for the first ever European Games will take place on Friday night in Baku, Azerbaijan, but several of Israel’s athletes will already begin their participation earlier in the day.
Israel has sent its largest ever delegation to a sporting event, with 141 athletes to take part in the different competitions. The delegation’s synchronized swimming duet and junior women’s water polo team will already enter the fray on Friday morning.
The inaugural edition of the European Games, an international multi-sport event for athletes representing the National Olympic Committees of Europe, will go on until June 28 and will feature more than 6,000 athletes from 50 nations competing in 20 sports.
With Baku 2015 to include an athletes’ village, ceremonies and similar logistics to those of Olympic Games, the Olympic Committee of Israel believes the athletes can gain valuable experience ahead of next summer’s Olympics in Rio.
In 12 of the events in Baku, athletes can either gather ranking points as part of their qualification process for the 2016 Olympics or already book their place in Brazil. In sports such as judo and taekwondo, there will be precious ranking points up for grabs, while in the triathlon, table tennis and shooting contests participants can clinch a berth in Rio.
Athletes will also be able to set the Olympic qualifying time standards for Rio in the swimming and athletics events. The athletics competitions in Baku will also be acting as the European Athletics Team Championships Third League and Israel will be one of 14 teams looking to gain promotion to the Second League. The swimming competition is replacing the European Youth Championships.
Israel’s top artistic and rhythmic gymnasts won’t be able to qualify for Rio in Azerbaijan, but they will be aiming to put on a good showing ahead of the World Championships.
The judo and wrestling competitions in the European Games will also act as this year’s European Championships, giving those events added importance.
There will also be five non-Olympic sports on show in Baku, with Israel to be represented in three of them. There will be Israeli teams in the men’s and women’s 3x3 basketball contests, which may well be on the Olympic program in Tokyo 2020, and there will also be a team of three women competing in the gymnastics acrobatics contest and one participant in the sambo (a Russian martial art and combat sport).
A gold medal winner will be awarded a NIS 30,000 bonus from the Olympic Committee of Israel, with first place in the judo and wrestling competitions to be worth NIS 40,000, as those are also acting as European Championships.