Vote for the Israeli Sports Personality of the Year

Definitely an eclectic mix of candidates in Blatt, Doron, Korzits, Shahar, Shatilov.

By JERUSALEM POST SPORTS STAFF
December 16, 2011 03:38
Shay Doron

Shay Doron 311. (photo credit: FIBA Europe)

 
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It has been a strange year in Israeli sports.

While sports fans have become accustomed to local headlines being dominated by the likes of superstars Omri Casspi, Shahar Pe’er and Yossi Benayoun, 2011 has been the year of the comeback.

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Many thought David Blatt would never coach in Israel again after Maccabi Tel Aviv demoted him to be Pini Gershon’s assistant in 2003 following two seasons as head coach.

However, he came back with a vengeance, taking Maccabi to the Euroleague title game and leading it to the Israeli championship and State Cup, despite beginning the season with extremely low expectations by Tel Aviv’s standards.

Shay Doron’s basketball career was almost completely derailed when she was diagnosed with a benign tumor in her breast six years ago. However, she not only fought her way back to her best, but she also became a spokesperson for early detection tests for breast cancer.

Doron experienced the greatest moment of her career in March when she captained Elitzur Ramle to local history, helping it become the first Israeli women’s team to win a continental competition by lifting the Eurocup.

Windsurfer Lee Korzits had all but retired three years ago, but despite two neardeath experiences she battled her way back to the top of her sport over the last year, culminating in the winning of a gold medal at the World Championships just last week.



Gymnast Alex Shatilov suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2010, but he cemented his place as one of Israel’s best medal hopes at next summer’s London Olympics by coming back as good as ever.

Shatilov claimed a bronze medal in the Floor final at the World Championships in October after also taking a silver in the same event at the European Championships earlier in the year.

The exception to what seemed to be the rule this past year is Maccabi Haifa owner Jacob Shahar.

In a day and age when millionaire-owners come and go in Israeli soccer with little regard to the clubs they have forsaken, Shahar has become the benchmark by which everyone else is measured.

Shahar, who celebrated his 70th birthday this year, became the first private owner in Israeli soccer in the summer of 1992 and it is his leadership and management that were responsible more than anything else for Maccabi Haifa winning its seventh Premier League title in 11 years in 2011.

All five nominees selected by the Post’s sports department would be worthy winners, but we are asking you, the readers, to help choose the individual who will be named The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year.

The winner, who will be revealed in the December 30 issue of this newspaper, will follow in the footsteps of Shahar Pe’er, who became the first two-time winner last year, with Omri Casspi taking the award in 2009 and Paralympic swimming sensation Inbal Pezaro claiming first place in 2008.

Readers can vote by email at sports@jpost.com or at www.jpost.com

Nominees are presented by alphabetical order

DAVID BLATT

Blatt returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv as a savior last season.

After dropping the Israeli league title for the second time in three years and failing to make it past the quarterfinal stage of the Euroleague for a second straight season, Maccabi’s management finally realized that Blatt was the perfect man for the job of resurrecting the yellow-and-blue.

However, in their wildest dreams they never expected Blatt to do so well.

Maccabi lost just one game on its way to the local championship and State Cup, while also going all the way to the Euroleague final before eventually succumbing to Panathinaikos in Barcelona.

Blatt also helped Maccabi reconnect with its supporters and Israeli sports fans in general after Tel Aviv had seemingly lost its way in the previous four years.

It is easy to forget now, but Maccabi went through five different coaches in those four years and its image looked to be tarnished forever following the Moni Fanan scandal and Pini Gershon’s embarrassing behavior.

However, Blatt changed all of that, and despite a less than ideal start to this season, there remains little doubt that Maccabi has the best coach it could wish for.

SHAY DORON

Having helped the University of Maryland to its first ever NCAA title in 2006 before becoming the first Israeli to play in the WNBA the following year, Doron knows all about the sweet taste of success.

However, the 1.75-meter guard admitted that the crowning moment of her career came in March of this year when she captained Elitzur Ramle to the Eurocup.

There were those who labeled Doron as not being “Israeli enough” just a few years ago, with the Ramat Hasharon native spending much of her upbringing in the US and even leading the USA to the Maccabiah title in 2005.

But despite feeling at home in both countries, Doron has no question where she truly belongs, speaking at every chance of the goose bumps she feels every time she hears the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva.

There were plenty of worried faces on Ramle’s bench when Doron went down injured in the first period of the first leg of the Eurocup final against Arras of France.

However, no one doubted that she would return and she went on to play a pivotal role in her team’s late comeback after reentering the game in the second half.

Doron is also an inspiration off the court, selling memorabilia from her Maryland days on eBay and raising $8,000 she went on to donate to the fight against breast cancer after her own personal scare.

LEE KORZITS

Windsurfing may not be everybody’s top sporting draw, but Korzits’s story is about a lot more than standing on a surfboard and pulling at a sail.

Two years ago, Korzits was told by doctors that she may never walk again and last year, the 27-year-old came within 30 seconds of drowning to death.

However, despite taking a lengthy break from her sport in 2008 following her failure to reach the Beijing Olympics and suffering setback after setback, Korzits never gave up.

She virtually came out of nowhere to become the youngest ever winner of the windsurfing World Championships at the age of 19 in 2003. And after overcoming an almost fatal surfing accident in Hawaii in April, 2009 and nearly suffering irreversible damage when she got trapped under her sail at last year’s Europeans, she has come back to regain her place as the world best in 2011.

A silver medal at the Europeans in Bulgaria in September was followed by a dominating performance in Perth, with Korzits leading from start to finish to win another global gold that has got Israeli sports fans itching for the start of next year’s Olympic windsurfing competition.

JACOB SHAHAR

Players and coaches have come and gone, but there has been one constant to Maccabi Haifa’s remarkable success over the past twoand- a-half decades.

Shahar has financially backed Haifa since 1985 before completing its purchase in 1992 and he has since become a model owner, turning Haifa into Israel’s number 1 club, both on and off the field.

Until Shahar came along Haifa had one championship and one State Cup to its name, but far more importantly it struggled financially and lacked any ambition to become one of the country’s top clubs.

Shahar changed all that, instilling European working standards and investing heavily in youth development and training facilities, ensuring the club does well in the long run as well as the present.

In Shahar’s 26 years at the club the team has won 11 championships and four cups and just as significantly it has also been at the forefront of Israeli achievements in European competitions.

Haifa’s early exit from the Europa League on Wednesday combined with its current struggles in the Premier League mean these are testing times for anyone associated with the Greens.

However, with Shahar’s steady and experienced hands at the helm, Haifa fans know the club’s long-term future is secure, something which can not be taken for granted in Israeli soccer.

ALEX SHATILOV

Shatilov has proven beyond doubt this year that he has what it takes to scale the Olympic podium and he has every intention of doing so.

The 24-year-old showed his strength of character by overcoming knee surgery that kept him out for much of 2010, claiming a bronze medal in the Floor final at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Tokyo a few months after taking a silver in the same discipline at the Europeans.

Shatilov is not scared to speak aloud of his expectations to also win an Olympic medal, and if the past 12 months were any indication, there is no reason he shouldn’t live up to his word.

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