Sinai Says: Decorated Israeli swimmer Barnea hangs up his bathing suit

One of the faces of Israeli swimming over the past decade announced his retirement last week, bringing to an end an illustrious career.

Israeli swimmer Guy Barnea (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli swimmer Guy Barnea
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When to retire is arguably the toughest decision a professional athlete has to make. But for Guy Barnea it couldn’t have been more obvious.
He may be only 30 years old, but he has no doubt he is ready for the next chapter of his life.
One of the faces of Israeli swimming over the past decade announced his retirement last week, bringing to an end an illustrious career.
Barnea reached the Olympic semifinal in the 100-meter backstroke at Beijing 2008 and ended Israel’s 10-year drought without a medal at the European Championships when he claimed a bronze in the 50m back in Budapest in 2010. He took a bronze in the same event two years later and also won a silver medal in the 50m back at the short course continental championships in 2012.
Barnea represented Israel at 11 World Championships between 2006 and 2017, more than any other blue-andwhite swimmer, reaching the final in the 50m back in 2011 and 2013. He finished in sixth place in Shanghai seven years ago and seventh in Barcelona two years later.
The Omer native, who also won a collegiate title with University of California, Berkeley in 2012, missed out on a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics by 13 hundredths of a second, but decided to extend his career for another year before choosing to walk away from the pool.
“I feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction,” he told The Jerusalem Post this week. “I feel I enjoyed a really complete career. I realized so many dreams and I look back at my career with satisfaction and gratitude, but now I want to do something new.”
Barnea’s new passion is his water-wear brand for men named “weekends at.” It was founded in 2017 by Barnea and designers Ron Nadel and Dov Adar and is about to launch its second collection.
“We have been working on it over the past few years but it was only launched last year. This has given me so much satisfaction and has been so successful that I want to develop this project the way I developed my swimming career,” explained Barnea. “My goals away from the pool excite me more than my goals in the pool. It felt really natural for me to move on after achieving so much and meeting amazing people and I have taken all I have experienced and all the tools I received onto the next thing.”
Barnea admitted he considered just fading his career out, but is thankful he decided to announce his exit with an official press conference at Olympic Committee of Israel headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“It isn’t the easiest thing to call a press conference and put yourself in the spotlight,” he said. “But I feel like it was the final piece of the puzzle that it is now complete. The press conference allowed me to say thank you, which was one of the things that was most important to me. I wanted to show my gratefulness to everyone who supported me for 25 years, first and foremost my family. It was also nice for me to receive this recognition. I felt love and support, and that people were excited for me, throughout my career, but this press conference capped it all off by allowing me to say thank you and to hear people thank me.”
Taking part at the 2008 Summer Games will forever remain the highlight of his career.
“The most important thing for me was to represent Israel at the Olympics. My goal was always to become an Olympic swimmer,” he noted.
“I started swimming at the age of six and by the time I was nine I was already doing morning training sessions and felt that I was doing the most special thing in the world. I began watching the Olympics around that age and understood that swimming was something that I really wanted to do and do well.”
After the disappointing results recorded by Israel’s swimmers at the Rio 2016 Olympics, the Israel Swimming Association decided to change course by hiring American David Marsh to be its top professional authority.
Leonid Kaufman was relieved from his role as the head coach of Israel’s national swimming team, a job he had held since 2007, as well as during much of the 1990’s.
Marsh, who was the head coach of the US women’s team at the Rio Olympics and served as a men’s assistant coach for the 2012, 2000 and 1996 US Olympic teams, brought with him a completely different system to the one implemented by Kaufman, who learned his trade in the former USSR.
Barnea believes that the results of the past couple of years are to be expected and feels that Israel’s swimmers will be once more shining on the world and European stage before too long.
“I think that what you see in Israel, and across the world, is that you have cycles that come and go. A generation of swimmers breaks through and then they begin to make way and sometimes there is a bit of a lull and it takes a bit of time until we see new swimmers register success,” he said.
“I think this is what Israeli swimming is currently experiencing, although we do have Yakov Toumarkin at his peak. The Israel Swimming Association is doing a lot and there is a lot of energy so I hope that will soon show in the results.
“Kaufman is an amazing coach and he led Israeli swimming over the past couple of decades,” Barnea added.
“But I think it is a good idea to try different systems. I know it isn’t easy because Marsh is mostly in the US so you need to find a way for the swimmers to be with him. But I’m always in favor of trying something new and creative and I think this could be a success.”
Like any athlete, Barnea’s career also included many lows. With retirement being a time to celebrate achievements, he found it hard to remember those disappointing days. But he knows that they were a vital part of his career and will be taking all that he learned from them to his next chapter.
“I suddenly can’t quite remember the difficult moments, but I know what it took from me and those with me to overcome those moments and to come out of them stronger and with the belief that I can make it back to the top,” he said.
“It isn’t easy to fail and then having to give explanations to the media. But disappointment is an inseparable part of the course you take to success.”