An exciting year ahead for Israeli athletes

Between Avdija, soccer and many Olympic storylines there is plenty for fans to look forward to.

Linoy Ashram (photo credit: OLYMPIC COMMITTEE OF ISRAEL)
Linoy Ashram
As the year 2020 is now thankfully in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead to 2021 and what hopes and dreams our nation has for our Israeli athletes and teams around the Holy Land and beyond:
Deni Avdija: The still 19-year-old aims for a successful first season in the NBA, the world’s greatest basketball league. The Israeli sensation was selected by the Washington Wizards with the ninth overall pick of the 2020 draft and, after a handful of games, looks to be right on track and not out of place at all against some of the finest hoopsters from around the globe. Avdija will certainly have his challenges versus the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and fellow European Luka Doncic and will look to learn as much as he can while adding more and more to his own arsenal.
Manor Solomon: The Israeli soccer player has become an international sensation this past year, scoring a number of goals in the Champions League against Real Madrid and always having the knack to be in the right place at the right time for his club team, Shakhtar Donetsk. As the 21-year-old Kfar Saba native sees his stock skyrocket, there is no question that he will most probably be headed to a bigger team during the summer of 2021 with English Premier League outfits Arsenal and Leeds as rumored destinations. Has Israel found the next Yossi Benayoun or does it have an even brighter star?

Israel Baseball Team: Hopes were high going into 2020 with the Olympics in sight, but then COVID hit and the Japan Games were shifted to 2021. With only six teams in the baseball tournament, Israel has a terrific shot of taking home a medal this summer should all go well and the Olympics take place as planned. Ian Kinsler, a 2018 World Series champion, will move down from the San Diego Padres front office to take the field for the blue-and-white as the four-time MLB All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner will look to lead Israel to the promised land.
Linoy Ashram: The rhythmic gymnast is still at the top of her sport just recently winning taking home the European all-around gold medal after not having competed for some time due to the pandemic. Many were worried that Ashram’s skills would be eroded after a long layoff, but the champ continued to stay in shape and work on her trade in order to be able to still compete at the highest of levels as she readies for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Israel Men’s Judo Team: The blue-and-white has a plethora of judokas that may threaten to take home a medal in Japan. Ori Sasson, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, is still a contender in the +100kg category, Sagi Muki is the reigning World Champion in -81kg and Peter Paltchik is the European Champion in -100kg. That sets Israel up very nicely to potentially dominate a single discipline at the Olympics, which would be a spectacular achievement.
Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club: Israel’s premier basketball team will look to get back on track after a 7-10 first round of Euroleague games in what has been a disappointing continental season to date. The yellow-and-blue has had plenty of ups and downs this campaign after having played so well last season prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The results thus far just don’t seem fair after all of the hard work that was put in last season. But that was then and this is now as coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos will look to turn it around and attempt to punch a ticket to the playoffs in April.
Israel National Soccer Team: Willi Ruttensteiner will be back at the helm of the blue-and-white as it looks towards the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying. Israel is in a tough, but not impossible, group with Austria, Denmark, Scotland, Moldova and Faroe Islands as Eran Zahavi will be back along with starlet Solomon as Israeli attempts to advance to its first international competition since 1970. The players wanted the Austrian bench boss back on the sidelines and now it’s up to them to prove to the Israel Football Association that they were correct in their choice.
Beitar Jerusalem: With peace sweeping across the Middle East and treaties being signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg looked to break the stigma of never having an Arab on the capital city side. So instead of signing one, he decided to cut a deal with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan to buy 50% of the club! With a new ownership structure in place, Beitar is that much closer to not only welcoming its first Arab player the influx of funds will help take the once-proud franchise back to the upper echelons of Israeli soccer by investing in a proper youth department and infrastructure. Who would have ever thought that Beitar would have an Arab owner? But then again, in 2020 the impossible has become possible.
There are also other Israel Olympic Team hopefuls aside from Ashram as the blue-and-white has a number of athletes that can potentially take home a medal.
Artem Dolgopyat will attempt to capture a medal in the men’s artistic gymnastics floor exercise, the discipline which he has been starring in, having just won gold at the European Championships. The 23-year-old has continued to move up the charts and has the eyes of many in the field to do some good things at the Games.
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter will be on the track and has been running top-level marathons for a number of years while taking home various prizes along the way for her adopted country of Israel.
Anat Lelior will be competing in the women’s surfing shortboard and is one of the highest ranked Europeans in the category. At 20 years of age, Lelior is a rising star in the sport and one wouldn’t be surprised if she finds her way onto the podium.
The same is true for Katy Spychako, who will take part in the Women’s Sailing RS:X event. The Eilat-born Spychakov has won a variety of medals in other competitions and will try to do the same in Japan.
Sergey Rikhter will take part in the men’s 10-meter air rifle shooting event after having won a gold medal at the 2019 European Games as he will look to duplicate the feat.
In equestrian, Israel has four riders who will feature in jumping – Daniel Bluman, Ashlee Bond, Elad Yaniv, and Danielle Goldstein Waldman – as the blue-and-white make its first major foray into the Olympic sport.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let’s hope that the fans can return to the stadiums, arenas and sporting events as soon as possible in order to enjoy the best of the best in Israeli sports and putting the pandemic behind us all!