It’s your call: Who was Israel’s best of 2016?

Sports Personality of the Year finalists include Bachar, Gerbi, Sasson, Shaziri and Zahavi.

December 23, 2016 00:27
4 minute read.
Yarden Gerbi

Yarden Gerbi. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It is no surprise that in an Olympic year, three of the five nominees who made The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year shortlist scaled the podium in Rio.

After ending Israel’s eight-year wait for an Olympic medal, Yarden Gerbi is aiming to win the award for a second time, first claiming the honor in 2013 on the back of her world title. Fellow judoka Sasson, who also took a bronze medal in Rio, and Shaziri, who was one of three Israelis to scale the podium in the Paralympics, are both first-time nominees.

Barak Bachar also catapulted himself into the spotlight in the past year, guiding Hapoel Beersheba to its first Premier League championship since 1976 and taking it to the Europa League round-of-32.

Guangzhou R&F and Israel national team star Eran Zahavi is part of the shortlist for a fourth straight year, but is still targeting his first title, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former winners Shahar Pe’er (2007, 2010), Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro (2008), Omri Casspi (2009), windsurfer Lee Korzits (2011), Paralympic gold medalist Noam Gershony (2012), Yarden Gerbi (2013), David Blatt (2014) and Paralympic rower Moran Samuel (2015).

The winner will be revealed in the December 30 issue of the newspaper and we are asking you, the readers, to help choose who will be named The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year.

Readers can vote through December 28 by email at (Nominees are introduced in alphabetical order) Barak Bachar Despite only celebrating his 37th birthday three months ago, Bachar is already regarded as one of the best Israeli coaches around. He joined Hapoel Beersheba only last year, but was already handed a contract extension until 2020 earlier this month following a remarkable 2016.

He guided Beersheba to its first Premier League championship in 40 years in May and the team already looks to be heading to another league title following a superb start to the 2016/17 campaign. Perhaps even more impressive has been Beersheba’s success in European competition. The team twice beat Italy’s Inter Milan and drew with Southampton of the English Premier League on two occasions to advance to the knockout rounds of the Europa League.

Yarden Gerbi When Gerbi was three years old she saw judoka Yael Arad win Israel’s first Olympic medal on TV, claiming a silver at Barcelona 1992. Almost 24 years to the day Arad made history, it was Gerbi’s turn to go down in Israeli sporting folklore.

It had been 2,991 days, or a little under eight years, since an Israeli last scaled the podium at the Olympics. Windsurfer Shahar Zubari was the last to do so, taking a bronze at Beijing 2008, and Gerbi ended the drought by claiming the bronze medal in the women’s under-63 kilogram event in Rio. She became a national hero in the process, and just like Arad, may well have also sown the seeds for future medalists.

Ori Sasson It wasn’t that long ago that Sasson wasn’t even considered to be the best judoka in his family. That title went to his older brother Alon, five years his senior and a former junior European champion. Alon was one of the main reasons Ori found himself competing in judo, and four days after Gerbi’s triumph, Sasson claimed Israel’s ninth Olympic medal in all, and second in Rio, taking a bronze in the men’s over-100kg competition.

Sasson also earned praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his handling of Egyptian opponent Islam El Shehaby in the first round in Rio. Sasson attempted to shake hands with his rival following his win, only to be rejected by the Egyptian.

Doron Shaziri Shaziri extended his remarkable run of winning at least one medal in every Paralympics since 1996 this past summer, claiming a bronze in the men’s 50-meter rifle three positions final in Rio.

The 49-year-old, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after stepping on a land mine during his army service in Lebanon in 1987, is one of Israel’s most decorated Paralympians. He has won medals in six consecutive games, taking two silver medals in Atlanta 1996, a bronze in Sydney 2000, two bronzes in Athens 2004, a silver in Beijing 2008 and a silver in London 2012.

Shaziri will be 53 by the time the Tokyo 2020 Games get under way, but he has every intention of adding to his medal haul in Japan.

Eran Zahavi The past year has been all about records for Zahavi. The 29-year-old broke the 61-year-old record for goals in a season with 35 for Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2015/16.

The yellow-and-blue ultimately ended the campaign empty handed, but that didn’t discourage Chinese club Guangzhou R&F from paying Maccabi $8 million for Zahavi’s services in June, the most lucrative transfer ever involving an Israeli club.

Zahavi was set to earn an estimated $12.5 million over two-and-a-half years in China, as well as a $20,000 bonus for each goal. He has netted 17 times in 19 matches for Guangzhou to date and seems set to become an even richer man, with Guangzhou to offer him a raise in order to fend off interest from other Chinese clubs.

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