(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 76th Israeli Athletics Championships get underway at Hadar Yosef Stadium in
Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening and will once again leave fans longing for the
good old days.
Only two Israelis have qualified so far for the athletics
competitions at the London Olympics, with marathon runner Zohar Zemiro a serious
doubt after failing a drugs test.
The hope is that two more Israelis will
join pole-vaulter Jillian Schwartz, with 19-year-old high-jumper Dima Kroyter
and 20-year-old shot putter Anastasia Muchkayev finding themselves in the
unenviable position of having to bring at least a little optimism to their
However, even should Kroyter and Muchkayev set the
Olympic B Standard in their respected events and go to London as two of the
delegation’s up-and-coming athletes, it is hard not to yearn for a time when
Israel had an elite athlete of the quality of pole-vaulter Alex Averbukh backed
by extraordinary talents of the likes of high-jumper Konstantin Matusevich and
triple-jumper Rugel Nahum.
Averbukh wants nothing more than to help
Israeli athletics back to its previous prominence in his new rule as a coach,
and despite recent lean times, he remains optimistic.
“There is certainly
room for improvement,” he told the Post
. “I recently watched the national youth
championships and there can be a bright future. It is just that at the moment
there is a gaping void and we need to get the younger athletes up to the senior
“We need to build from the bottom up and fully focus on sport
because politics get in the way.
“When I retired and entered the
athletics management world I discovered that this is the main reason for our
Averbukh retired in 2009 after a career packed with
achievements unlikely to be repeated by another Israeli athlete any time
He was crowned pole-vault European Champion twice in a row, in 2002
and 2006, and won silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in 2001
and 1999, respectively.
Averbukh also claimed the gold medal at the
European Indoor Championships in 2000 and reached the final of the Olympic Games
in 2004 and 2008.
Each and every one of those accomplishments is
unprecedented by Israeli athletics standards and will likely remain unique for
The Siberia native, who made Aliya in 1999, fell out with the
Israeli Athletics Association in his role as manager of the jumpers program
earlier this year, but they have since settled their differences and Averbukh is
back giving priceless advice to Israel’s hopefuls.
“I try to help the
athletes from my experience and make sure that they don’t do anything stupid,”
“Everyone wants immediate results, but that’s a
“You need to focus only on the very best and I believe that if I
were given a couple of years to work with them I could achieve good
“I hope that coaching will become a recognized profession in
Israel. You need to pay the coaches more. That will help every
“This is my dream. I think this will change everything and take
sport to another level.”
Averbukh, who is also the chairman of the
Netanya Mizuno Athletes club, is hoping to start a new project focused on
pole-vaulting, but he has yet to garner the financial support he
“I have offered the Israeli Athletics Association and the Elite
Sport Department to set up a project for women pole-vaulters, taking former
gymnasts and training them, which is how world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva
started,” Averbukh said.
“We need to look for the talent and work hard.
Professionalism and money can bring amazing results. The target of this project
will be to send 3-5 pole-vaulters to the 2020 Olympics.
“There is a lot
of politics involved in getting any project going, but I’m optimistic that I
will be given the chance to do this.”
In the meantime, Averbukh will be
cheering Israel’s current prospects over the next couple of days at Hadar Yosef,
with Kroyter and Muchkayev headlining Wednesday’s action.
Kroyter will be
looking to equal his career-best jump of 2.28-meters and meet the Olympic B
Standard, while Muchkayev needs to record at least 17.20m in the shot put, two
centimeters less than the Israeli record she set in April.
“I haven’t got
long to set the criteria, but that will only help me,” said Kroyter, who can
also set the B Standard at the European Championships in Helsinki later this
“Whatever happened in the past is now behind me and I want to go
on and become one of the world’s best.”