avram grant 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
It has been another superb year for Israeli sports stars playing both in Israel and abroad. From soccer to swimming, basketball to track and field, Israel's superstars have continued to make great strides, illustrating the high caliber of athletes this country can produce.
As the year comes to an end, we are asking you, the readers, to choose which sportsman or woman deserves to be named The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2007.
We have put together a short-list of nominations that recognizes the contributions of individuals from across the sporting spectrum. While some of the better known personalities have become famous playing basketball, tennis and soccer, the list also includes sailors and a long distance runner.
Tennis players Shahar Pe'er and Dudi Sela have risen up the world rankings in the past year, basketball coach David Blatt won the EuroBasket title with Russia and Meir Tapiro captained the Israel national team at that event. Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun has starred in the Champions League, Chelsea's Avraham Grant has established himself as a top coach in England, sailors Udi Gal and Gidi Kliger won bronze at the 470 Class Sailing World Championships and marathon runner Haile Satayin qualified for the Olympics at the age of 52.
The winner will be chosen by Jerusalem Post readers with voters able to register their choice on-line on www.jpost.com poll (which appears in the lower half of the home page) or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Jerusalem Post Israeli Sports Personality of the Year will be announced in the December 31 issue of the paper along with the other winners of the Jerusalem Post's Sports Awards 2007, including Team of the Year, Young Sports Personality of the Year and Foreign Sports Personality of the Year, which will be chosen by the Post's sports staff.
The tenacious 20-year-old began the year at number 20 in the world, and while she didn't rise up the rankings dramatically over the last 12 months, finishing at number 17, Pe'er has established herself as one of the big names on the WTA Tour.
Pe'er was also a crucial part of Israel's wonderfully successful Fed Cup team, which beat Canada in February and then Austria in July to book a World Group tie against Russia to be played in Ramat Hasharon this coming February.
Although she has put in many a strong match in 2007, including the semifinal of the prestigious Miami tournament, Pe'er often struggled to beat the top players in the world. However, the gutsy youngster reached the quarterfinals of both the Australian and US Opens, and she continually entertained, especially in the top events.
Pe'er kept Israelis watching their televisions late at night during her fine run at the Australian Open where she lost to eventual winner Serena Williams 3-6, 6-2, 8-6 in a marathon match.
Her impressive performances at the Grand Slams continued at the French Open where she was only knocked out by world number three Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round.
The Israeli felt disappointment at Wimbledon where she only reached the third round before losing to France's Marion Bartoli who eventually got to the final. In September, Pe'er got to the quarters of the US Open before being overcome by Anna Chakvetadze.
A year ago, Sela was ranked outside the world's top 200 and considering giving up the sport four years after turning pro. Fast forward 12 months and the 22-year-old from Kiryat Shmona has astounded tennis fans, leaping up the rankings in a wildly successful year. In July, he was ranked 153 in the world, and by November he had broken well into the world top 100, finishing the year as the 64th ranked player in the world and as Israel's number one male tennis player.
While he won plaudits for his defeat of Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan at the Australian Open and for winning the Seoul Challenger event, it was Sela's stunning Davis cup performances that established him as a national treasure.
After the Israel national team beat Luxembourg in February and Italy in April, Sela was outstanding in the Israeli victory over Chile in the World Group Playoff. Playing in front of frenzied supporters at Ramat Hasharon, Sela defeated world No. 6 Fernando Gonzalez 4-6, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3 in a five hour nail biter to secure the tie.
In July, Yossi Benayoun's decision to transfer to English Premier League giant Liverpool seemed like it could be a step too far. Benayoun had played well for London club West Ham for the previous two seasons but analysts were sure he would spend much of his time in the North on the bench. How wrong the critics have been proven. Since the start of the season, Benayoun has made himself one of the mainstays of Rafa Benitez's team, scoring important goals for the Reds, including a hattrick in the Champions League against Besiktas in November.
The Israel captain's skillful style and intelligent performances have drawn attention from fans around the world.
However, Israel once again failed to reach a major tournament, and the team's performance in the 3-0 defeat in England was an obvious down point. However Benayoun remains the top Israeli soccer player and big things are still expected of him.
September 20, 2007 was a massive day for Avraham Grant. Soccer pundits in Israel and beyond were left scratching their heads in disbelief when the former Israel national team coach was named manager of Chelsea, one of the highest profile and richest clubs in the world. Grant's Blues were beaten by Manchester United in his first game in charge, but since then the understated 52-year-old has quietly rebuilt the confidence at Chelsea, which had been lost under Jose Mourinho.
He has the team playing quality soccer and even rejuvenated the deflated Ukranian striker Andrei Shevchenko.
In September, the likelihood of Grant winning the Champions League with Chelsea seemed like a joke. Now the world is his oyster and who knows how far he can take Roman Abramovich's club with Ronaldinho tipped to be on his way to Stamford Bridge.
When Russia won the EuroBasket championship in September, David Blatt, the team's coach was credited with being integral to the Russian success. His tactical brain was clearly essential in transforming Russia from a team of underdogs to world beaters, and the image of Blatt being thrown into the air by the Russia players following the 60-59 win over Spain in the final will stick in the minds of many a basketball fan.
It was the first time an Israeli coach had won the European Championship and the first European success for Russia since the break up of the Soviet Union.
Blatt, the former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach, has since moved to coach Turkish Euroleague side Efes Pilsen where he has had limited success. Pilsen has lost three of five games in the Euroleague so far this season, including a 73-67 defeat to Maccabi in Tel Aviv in November.
The 2006/07 season was one of the best for Meir Tapiro. Now 32-years-old, Tapiro captained Israel to the EuroBasket championship in Spain in 2007, won the State Cup with Hapoel Jerusalem and came within a few seconds of winning the Israeli league title with Jerusalem.
While Israel's performances at the EuroBasket in Spain were not stunning, the way the team managed to qualify through the last chance tournament captured the imagination of the nation and Tapiro played a significant role.
His leadership skills can not be doubted and he clearly loved playing at Jerusalem. The win over Bnei Hasharon in the State Cup final in February was emotional, as was his returned to Jerusalem's Malha Arena on Sunday with his new club Bnei Hasharon. Since moving to the Sharon team in the summer, Tapiro has continued to impress, most recently scoring 31 points in a win over Ironi Nahariya.
UDI GAL & GIDI KLIGER
Not only are Gal and Kliger Israel's top sailing team, they are one of the best in the world. The pair have spent much of 2007 preparing for next summer's Olympic games in Beijing where they fully intend to bring home a medal.
In July, Gal and Kliger proved their worth, winning the bronze medal at the 470 Class World Championships for a second straight year. The Israelis, who say they are proud to represent their country, finished the medal race in fifth position, leapfrogging the Portuguese duo of Alvaro Marinho and Miguel Nunes.
Confident and charismatic, Gal and Kliger consistently showcase all that is positive about Israeli sportsmen with their winning attitude and patriotism.
Haile Satayin again stunned experts, and the competition, at the World Athletics Championships in Japan in September, finishing the marathon in 19th place and qualifying for the Olympic games in impressive style.
The father of seven is one of the country's most outstanding and enigmatic athletes, especially considering his age - a number that is difficult to establish as he says he is 45 but his passport states that he is 52.
Either way, Satayin has long been the number one Israeli long distance runner, regularly winning the Tiberias Marathon and other half marathons in Israel and outside the country.
He immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1991, but only began running professionally in the late 90s.
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