It isn’t often that Israeli sports receives a ready-made world champion.
In fact, it has probably never happened, especially in an Olympic sport with the high profile of swimming.
The arrival of Eva Fabian from the United States is not only set to bolster Israel’s delegation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But it may even give the team an actual medal hope in swimming, something it has never had before.
The 24-year-old New Hampshire native has a long list of accolades in open-water swimming despite her young age.
Fabian was crowned world champion when she won the gold medal in the 5-kilometer race at the FINA World Open Water Swimming championships in Lac Saint-Jean, Canada, in 2010.
Open-water swimming, which is essentially swimming’s equivalent of the marathon, was added to the Olympic program in 2008.
The World Championships include races in 5km, 10km and 25km, but the 10km is the only open-water distance swum at the Olympics. Despite claiming two gold medals on the World Cup circuit in 2012, she missed out on a place in the London 2012 Games as she finished fourth in the US nationals. Each country is only allowed one representative at the 10km swim at the Olympics.
In 2013, Fabian took a bronze medal in the 25km race at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, finishing seven hundredths of a second behind the winner after five hours and seven minutes of non-stop swimming off the coast of Barcelona.
She added another gold medal to her resume when she won the 10km competition at the Pan American Games in 2015, although her Olympic debut will have to wait until Tokyo 2020 as she once more didn’t land a berth on the US team to Rio 2016.
Fabian came to Israel in September with the intent of making aliya even though she had never previously visited the country. She decided to test the waters for a month before making her decision official.
While she has only been in Israel for a short time, Fabian couldn’t have sounded happier about her decision to move to the country.
“Making aliya was something I had been thinking about for quite some time, but with my academic commitments was not something I was able to do,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“After I graduated from Yale University, I swam professionally in NYC, and am very grateful for the experience, but I really felt that making aliya and training in and competing for Israel was something I wanted to do. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunities I’ve had through swimming, and the timing of my move couldn’t have been smoother.”
Fabian lives and trains at the Wingate Institute, where the Israel Swimming Association has set up a special program aimed at utilizing the country’s advantages to achieve success in open-water swimming.
One of the reasons she was so confident about training in Israel was due to all she had heard from her good friend, Shahar Resman, one of Israel’s top male open-water swimmers, who trained with her in New Hampshire.
“Israel has the unique advantage of having a national open-water team training group, as well as the natural advantage of the incredible beachfront and sea to train in,” explained Fabian, who trains under coach Hanan Gilad. “Coming from the northeastern US, I’m quite used to cold water, and looking forward to continuing my sea training throughout the winter.”
Fabian, who majored in music in Yale and is an expert violin player, undergoes grueling training to be among the world’s best in long-distance swimming. An average week includes around nine training sessions, with each consisting of at least 7km of swimming.
Unlike many swimming events, tactics play a crucial role in open-water races, which is one of Fabian’s favorite parts.
Due to FINA regulations regarding swimmers who change nationality, Fabian won’t be able to officially represent Israel in FINA sanctioned events for a year.
But while she has to wait until November 2018 to compete for the blue-and-white, Fabian is remaining positive.
“While there are certainly disadvantages to not being able to take part in FINA races while I change my nationality, there are a lot of advantages as well,” she noted. “I’m able to really focus on training this year, as well as racing in pool competitions in Israel to work on my speed in the shorter distances.”
Israeli swimmers have only twice reached finals in individual events at the Olympics, with Yakov Toumarkin’s seventh-place finish in the 200m backstroke in London 2012 remaining the country’s best-ever swimming result at any Summer Games.
Fabian is setting the bar far higher, realistically believing that she can claim Israel’s first-ever Olympic medal in swimming in Tokyo 2020.
“Winning a medal in Tokyo is the ultimate goal, but there are a lot of steps to climb on the way there, starting with working on the little details every day, such as technique and strength, that add up to the big picture in a few years. I’m excited to see what I can do, and to get to train and compete in the sport I love,” she said.
“I can only imagine how proud, honored, and humbled I will be when I get to wear an Israeli flag cap in competition, and when I get to represent Israel in the water. I am excited and beyond grateful for the opportunity.”