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When Gal Fridman rode the Athens waves to victory in the 2004 mistral sailing event, he became the first Israeli Olympic gold medalist, propelling Israel to the forefront of international windsurfing.
Shahar Tzuberi, this year's Israeli representative in the sport at the summer Games in Beijing, was only 17 when he watched the Hatikvah wash over a victorious Fridman as he celebrated on the Olympic podium.
Now, after a successful showing in this year's pre-Olympic competitions, Tzuberi has replaced Fridman as the lone Israeli 2008 Olympic windsurfer.
"It is a really big honor," Tzuberi told The Jerusalem Post at a ceremony hosted by President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanasi on Tuesday in celebration of Israel's Olympic athletes.
"In our sport that's what it's all about - to be the only winner from this country. It's a big honor with a lot of pride and I'm happy to do it."
Despite the fame and prestige surrounding Fridman's career, the pressure of assuming his role on the international stage as the sole male windsurfing competitor from Israel does not seem to faze Tzuberi.
"Gal did a great job in Athens, but I'm not feeling so much pressure," Tzuberi said.
In 2005, The International Sailing Federation decided to replace the Mistral One Design class in which Fridman competed, with the Neil Pryde RS:X discipline in Beijing. Tzuberi credits this decision with alleviating much of his anxiety about filling his senior's shoes.
"They've changed the class from now on so it's a bit different [than in past Olympics]. I don't feel any pressure. Yet," adds Tzuberi with good-natured confidence.
Tzuberi began windsurfing at the age of six under the guidance of his father. As a native of Eilat, he had ample opportunity to perfect his technique along the Red Sea Coast.
Noted by surfing experts for his marked development over the last several years, Tzuberi is an exciting prospect for the future of Israeli sports despite his relative inexperience.
After being crowned the Under-17 world champion, Tzuberi graduated to the senior circuit with committed passion.
He went on to place sixth and eighth in the European and World Championships respectively in 2007, a season Tzuberi cited as his all-time best.
Earlier this year Tzuberi captured the bronze medal at the World Championships in New Zealand, proving himself a truly elite competitor and exciting Israelis as they look forward to his performance in the upcoming Olympics.
"The Worlds in New Zealand was my biggest achievement so far and I'm quite happy," Tzuberi said.
"I think this is the level, and I think I can do more or less the same in the Olympics."
As Tzuberi developed his practice and began to form a niche for himself in the sport of windsurfing, his competitive nature combined with his obvious talent to target the Olympic Games as his ultimate goal.
"I started to compete and saw that I am good. I've realized that the Olympics is the most important race of all so I want to be there," Tzuberi said.
As Tzuberi enters the final leg of training before contesting in the Neil Pryde windsurfing competition of his first Olympic Games, he portrays an image of confidence in the face of tremendous pressure.
He is determined to compete outside of the shadow of Gal Fridman's success, and is focused on bringing a top performance to Beijing this August.
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