Sinai says: Buoyant Zubari pumped for ‘special’ windsurfing worlds in Eilat

At just 29 years of age, the Israeli windsurfer has won an Olympic medal, a world championship medal and has twice been crowned as European champion .

By
February 18, 2016 01:00
Shahar Zubari

Shahar Zubari. (photo credit: ISRAELI SAILING ASSOCIATION/COURTESY)

 
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There isn’t much Shahar Zubari has yet to experience in his career.

At just 29 years of age, the Israeli windsurfer has won an Olympic medal (bronze in Beijing 2008), a world championship medal (bronze in New Zealand in 2008) and has twice been crowned as European champion (2009, 2010).

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Nevertheless, competing at the world windsurfing championships in his hometown of Eilat next week will be a special first for Zubari.

Israel’s southernmost city hosts the 2016 edition of the event, an historic achievement for both the country and the touristic town on the Red Sea.

Zubari is one of the medal favorites in the men’s competition, which will also be crucial in the battle to represent Israel at the upcoming Rio Olympics.

Each country can only send one windsurfer to Brazil, and Zubari currently trails Nimrod Mashiah in the head-to-head battle for Israel’s lone berth.

The competition in Eilat is the fourth of five events which will decide who of the two will compete in the 2016 Summer Games.



Zubari is brimming with confidence ahead of the start of the championships, which get under way on Monday and will run until Saturday.

“I think I’m in good form and the preparations went according to plan,” he told The Jerusalem Post this week. “My last event was in Rio in December, which came after a long period in which I didn’t compete due to injury and the fact that we couldn’t take part in last year’s worlds in Oman.”

Apart from home cooking, Zubari believes he doesn’t have a significant advantage from competing in the waters he has known since a young age.

“I don’t think it gives me an advantage as there are many good surfers and at the end of the day they are all experienced at competing in different conditions,” said Zubari. “To experience a competition of this magnitude in my backyard, with my Mom’s cooking and sleeping in my room, will be special though. However, the surfing conditions in Eilat are very unpredictable so there isn’t much of a homefield advantage.

“The one advantage I do have in Eilat is that I have both my sea coach, Rafa Balilos, and fitness coach, Shlomi Zaksh, with me all the time,” he added. “When competing abroad I have to compromise and only take one of them.”

Zubari is hoping to make up for the disappointment of missing the last edition of the event held in Oman last October. Due to the security concerns raised by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which is responsible for the safety of Israeli national teams when competing abroad, the Israel Sailing Association (ISA) notified the organizers that it will not take part in the championships in the Muslim Sultanate, resulting in the cancellation of the visas originally issued by Oman in July.

The ISA backtracked a day later and decided to send its three most senior surfers, Zubari, Mashiah and Ma’ayan Davidovich. However, the organizers insisted they were unable to issue new visas so quickly and Zubari was forced to watch the event from afar.

“There is no doubt that it disrupted my preparations,” said Zubari, who is known for his ability of utilizing weak winds to his advantage.

“Everyone was talking about Oman as a competition with weak winds and I also trained really hard ahead of it and was in great shape.

The most painful part is to hear other surfers telling me that the worlds in Oman could have been my competition. But I’m channeling all of this to energy for the world championships in Eilat and I’m not looking back. All of my hunger and drive are focused on this event.”

Zubari believes the ISA could have handled the matter far better.

“I was very angry. I think the Israel Sailing Association acted in amateur fashion and that is a shame,” he claimed. “Israeli sports as a whole lost out and it hurt my career. As an athlete you always want to control your fate and when things are out of your control you hope that those who are in control will do their job in the best way possible. So when that doesn’t happen I’m disappointed. But you need to move forward and there is no point in looking back.”

Tensions between Zubari and Mashiah ran extremely high ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, with the former ultimately representing Israel in the Summer Games, but not before the rivalry between the two reached unsporting lows.

That has since all changed.

“I think we have matured. We are each in our own place, doing things our way so there is no friction,” explained Zubari. “There is no doubt that I’ll be watching Nimrod because he is one of my rivals for a medal and my main opponent for the ticket to the Rio Olympics. But I know that I need to focus on my performance and do the best I can.

“My goal isn’t to finish ahead of Nimrod. He isn’t the issue. The issue is to record the best result possible.

And of course the expectations from me, and my expectations from myself, are to take a medal and finish as high as possible. I hope not to let myself down. There is a lot of pressure because I know what’s at stake, but I’m ready for it. I’m in good form, I’m ready and I just need to do my job and compete.”

Zubari said that the unpredictable conditions in Eilat will mean the competition will be even more intense and interesting than usual, and he is itching for the event to get under way.

“Any sporting event of this magnitude in Israel is amazing and lifts the sport in the country,” said Zubari.

“There was talk that surfers from abroad wouldn’t want to come and there were many question marks raised regarding the holding of the event in Eilat due to security concerns.

However, all I’ve heard from the surfers since they’ve arrived is ‘wow’ and what a great place Eilat is.

“It is fun to hear as you understand that the place in which you were raised, and which you might take for granted, is so special.”

allon@jpost.com

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