The Last Word: Watch out... the Olympics are coming

39 Israelis will compete in 11 different sports carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.

By JEREMY LAST
June 26, 2008 23:59
2 minute read.
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And now the Olympic build up really begins. When on Monday the Olympic Committee of Israel announced the team it will be taking to this summer's games in Beijing it felt like the talking and planning finally was becoming a reality. At last, even though there could still be a few changes here and there, we had a definitive list of names to look over. As it stands, 39 individuals will travel to China in August to compete in 11 different sports carrying the hopes and dreams of a nation on their shoulders. It is only during the Olympic Games that Israelis suddenly become deeply interested in so many of what are usually the most unsupported of sports. From judo to rhythmic gymnastics, shooting to sailing, we know that this is the time for us to show the world the great competitive attitude of Israelis. Of course only the gold medal winner gets his national anthem played loud and clear on international television, and only one Israeli has managed to reach those heights in an Olympic competition. When Gal Fridman grabbed the wind surfing gold in Athens four years ago I was still six months away from aliya and failed to appreciate the enormity of his achievement. Since I moved to Israel from the UK in January 2005, and then became involved in the sports world, the image of Fridman's face as he stood listening to the Hatikva has become imprinted on my mind, a picture which makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Looking down the list of Israeli competitors, only four names - two pairs - stand out as having a real chance of winning a gold this time. Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich are clearly one of the best doubles teams on the international tennis circuit, and that they are both Israeli and always play together can only work in their favor. After winning the Australian Open title back in January the Israeli pair have shown that they can rise to the occasion and will be full of confidence in Beijing. The second pair are in a far trickier situation. Udi Gal and Gidi Kliger were riding the crest of a wave, literally, this season, finishing third in the European championships. I had the privelige to interview them a year ago, and even then it was clear that their focus was all on this summer in Beijing. How unfortunate it has been, then, that Gal may be banned for Beijing after failing a drug test last week. But these four are not our only hopes of a medal. Judoka Arik Ze'evi, pole vaulter Alex Averbukh, Taekwondo fighter Bat El Gaterer and tennis star Shahar Pe'er all have a chance. The Olympics are the pinnacle of most athletes' career and we at The Jerusalem Post will be with the Israelis every step of the way. Deputy Sports Editor Allon Sinai will be in Beijing covering the games for this paper, and we all hope he will be lucky enough to witness Israelis making history first hand this August. jeremylast@gmail.com


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