Israeli flag at Olympic village 370.
(photo credit: OCI/courtesy)
LONDON – The level of excitement among the Israeli delegation ahead of the start of the London Olympics on Friday continued to climb like the temperatures in the English capital on Wednesday after the country’s flag was raised in the Olympic Village, marking the official arrival of the athletes.
Several of Israel’s sportsmen and women attended the short and colorful ceremony held under sunny skies in temperatures reaching 33 degrees before turning back their attention to the real reason they have come to London.
Among those in attendance was swimmer Gal Nevo, who will not be at Friday’s Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium as he will be getting to bed early to be ready to compete in his first race on Saturday morning.
Nevo is hoping to become just the second Israeli swimmer to reach a final of an individual Olympic event when he jumps into the pool for the 400-meters Individual Medley heats.
“I’ve been in London for just 24 hours but I already feel acclimatized as if I’ve been here much longer,” Nevo said on Wednesday.
“I feel that I’m in the best shape of my life. Therefore, my target is to improve my national records which were set a while ago with the fullbody suits.
“My first goal is to set a personal best and I hope that will be enough to reach the final.”
Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, was on hand to watch the Israeli flag being raised into the London sky, hoping it will be the first of many such occasions in these Olympics.
“Everyone was very excited to see the flag being raised,” Taub said.
“We hope that thanks to our athletes this will not be the last time this happens in London.”
The 2012 Games will be the sixth Summer Olympics for Olympic Committee of Israel Secretary General Efraim Zinger, but he claimed to be as moved as ever by the ceremony.
“I was overcome by emotion singing the anthem and watching the flag, but we are here to do a job,” Zinger said.
“Our goal is clear – to make sure everyone of our 37 athletes will be at their best in their moment of truth.”
Director of Israel’s Elite Sport Department, Gili Lostig, has overseen the athletes’ preparations from day one, and with four Olympic Games already on his resume, he knows exactly what they require to make sure they peak when it matters most.
“The village is slowly filling with our athletes and our first target is to help them get back into their regular routine,” Lostig said.
“We enter the competitions in full force on Saturday and we have 37 athletes here who have been given all they need to succeed.”
Two more of the Israeli sportsmen competing on Saturday are gymnast Alex Shatilov and judoka Tommy Arshansky.
While Shatilov enters the men’s artistic gymnastics qualifiers as one of Israel’s best medal hopes, Arshansky’s presence in London is a pure bonus for the judoka, who became the last athlete to be added to the delegation when the OCI’s high court accepted his appeal to be one of three up-and-coming Israelis in the Games.
“We will know more about Arshansky’s chances after we see Thursday’s draw, but we are hoping he can at least win one battle,” Lostig said.
“Shatilov knows what is at stake on Saturday. I think the presence of fellow gymnast Felix Aronovich will help him a lot as it gives him a colleague to talk to.
“Everyone is already talking about the floor final on August 5, but Shatilov first has to make sure he does his job in Saturday’s qualifiers and he will have to be at his best.”