To say that tensions are running high between Shahar Zubari and Nimrod Mashiah
ahead of the start of the windsurfing World Championships next Monday would be
the understatement of the century.
Windsurfing is surely one of the worst
spectator sports in the world, but it is also one which has supplied Israel with
three of its seven Olympic medals as well as a storyline every sports reporter
Zubari and Mashiah have never been the best of friends, but
things have escalated into an all-out war since September’s European
With just one Israeli windsurfer to represent the country
at the London Olympics, Zubari and Mashiah are fighting for an honor they have
dreamed about all their lives.
Zubari, who claimed a bronze medal at the
Beijing Games and won back-to-back European gold medals in 2009 and 2010, was
set to win a third straight medal at the Europeans entering the final day of
competition in Burgas, Bulgaria, two months ago.
However, with the
continental championships being the first of four competitions which will
determine who of the two goes to London, Mashiah, who was already out of medal
contention, spent the last and crucial race trying to hamper Zubari’s
Mashiah’s underhanded tactics worked, resulting in Zubari
finishing the final race in eighth place and dropping to fourth position
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Instead of collecting a medal and picking up 15 rankings points
according to the Olympic Committee of Israel’s (OCI) point system, Zubari
settled for a mere seven points, just four more than Mashiah, who ended the
competition in eighth place.
Zubari claimed that his rival acted
unethically, while Mashiah maintained that he did no wrong and abided by the
The local race officials agreed with him, but the
uproar that followed Israel’s loss of a medal due to the infighting eventually
resulted in an Israeli sailing association disciplinary hearing.
association’s committee found Mashiah guilty of illegally blocking Zubari and
deducted two points from the total he collected in Burges, increasing the gap
between the two to six points.
Unsurprisingly, Mashiah was outraged,
claiming that dirty politics stood behind his punishment.
windsurfers kept journalists busy for days by exchanging insults via the media,
setting the stage for next week’s World Championships in Perth,
The second of the four Olympic qualifying competitions set by
the OCI will be extremely significant to the outcome of the fierce battle
between Zubari and Mashiah, with a gold medal, for example, rewarding its winner
with 50 ranking points.
Perhaps it should come as little surprise as they
are opposites in almost every way possible, but interestingly Zubari and Mashiah
have fared very differently in World and European championships.
claimed a bronze medal at the Olympics and the worlds in 2008 and won two
straight European golds, the relatively small and slender Zubari has
disappointed at the recent global championships, finishing in 17th place in
2010, a year after coming 13th.
On the other hand, the big and brawny
Mashiah, who has a completely different surfing style to Zubari, won his second
straight medal at the World Championships last year, taking a bronze in
Kerteminde, Denmark a year after claiming a silver.
A similar outcome in
Perth next week and the two-point disciplinary deduction will be a distant
memory for Mashiah.
The 2011 worlds may only mark the midway point of the
ferocious fight between Zubrai and Mashiah, with next March’s worlds in Spain
and a World Cup event in the Netherlands still to come.
lopsided outcome in Perth will open a gap that will not be easy to close next
Zubari and Mashiah have both done exceptionally well in the past
three years and either will be one of Israel’s best medal hopes in
But only one will go.
Windsurfing may not be an easy sport
to follow, but the next chapter in the melodrama involving Zubari and Mashiah is
well worth waiting for.
Not only is any outcome possible, but regardless
of what eventually unfolds, the rivalry between the two is set to reach new
heights, or perhaps more accurately new lows, and that is something no Israeli
sports fan wants to firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Allon Sinai on Twitter:
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