Competitions begin with dreams to restore glory

The 76th Israeli Athletics Championships get underway at Hadar Yosef Stadium in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Alex Averbukh (photo credit: REUTERS)
Alex Averbukh
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 76th Israeli Athletics Championships get underway at Hadar Yosef Stadium in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening and will once again leave fans longing for the good old days.
Only two Israelis have qualified so far for the athletics competitions at the London Olympics, with marathon runner Zohar Zemiro a serious doubt after failing a drugs test.
The hope is that two more Israelis will join pole-vaulter Jillian Schwartz, with 19-year-old high-jumper Dima Kroyter and 20-year-old shot putter Anastasia Muchkayev finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to bring at least a little optimism to their downtrodden sport.
However, even should Kroyter and Muchkayev set the Olympic B Standard in their respected events and go to London as two of the delegation’s up-and-coming athletes, it is hard not to yearn for a time when Israel had an elite athlete of the quality of pole-vaulter Alex Averbukh backed by extraordinary talents of the likes of high-jumper Konstantin Matusevich and triple-jumper Rugel Nahum.
Averbukh wants nothing more than to help Israeli athletics back to its previous prominence in his new rule as a coach, and despite recent lean times, he remains optimistic.
“There is certainly room for improvement,” he told the Post. “I recently watched the national youth championships and there can be a bright future. It is just that at the moment there is a gaping void and we need to get the younger athletes up to the senior level.
“We need to build from the bottom up and fully focus on sport because politics get in the way.
“When I retired and entered the athletics management world I discovered that this is the main reason for our problems.”
Averbukh retired in 2009 after a career packed with achievements unlikely to be repeated by another Israeli athlete any time soon.
He was crowned pole-vault European Champion twice in a row, in 2002 and 2006, and won silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in 2001 and 1999, respectively.
Averbukh also claimed the gold medal at the European Indoor Championships in 2000 and reached the final of the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008.
Each and every one of those accomplishments is unprecedented by Israeli athletics standards and will likely remain unique for some time.
The Siberia native, who made Aliya in 1999, fell out with the Israeli Athletics Association in his role as manager of the jumpers program earlier this year, but they have since settled their differences and Averbukh is back giving priceless advice to Israel’s hopefuls.
“I try to help the athletes from my experience and make sure that they don’t do anything stupid,” he said.
“Everyone wants immediate results, but that’s a mistake.
“You need to focus only on the very best and I believe that if I were given a couple of years to work with them I could achieve good results.
“I hope that coaching will become a recognized profession in Israel. You need to pay the coaches more. That will help every sport.
“This is my dream. I think this will change everything and take sport to another level.”
Averbukh, who is also the chairman of the Netanya Mizuno Athletes club, is hoping to start a new project focused on pole-vaulting, but he has yet to garner the financial support he requires.
“I have offered the Israeli Athletics Association and the Elite Sport Department to set up a project for women pole-vaulters, taking former gymnasts and training them, which is how world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva started,” Averbukh said.
“We need to look for the talent and work hard. Professionalism and money can bring amazing results. The target of this project will be to send 3-5 pole-vaulters to the 2020 Olympics.
“There is a lot of politics involved in getting any project going, but I’m optimistic that I will be given the chance to do this.”
In the meantime, Averbukh will be cheering Israel’s current prospects over the next couple of days at Hadar Yosef, with Kroyter and Muchkayev headlining Wednesday’s action.
Kroyter will be looking to equal his career-best jump of 2.28-meters and meet the Olympic B Standard, while Muchkayev needs to record at least 17.20m in the shot put, two centimeters less than the Israeli record she set in April.
“I haven’t got long to set the criteria, but that will only help me,” said Kroyter, who can also set the B Standard at the European Championships in Helsinki later this month.
“Whatever happened in the past is now behind me and I want to go on and become one of the world’s best.”