Daniel Rowing Center’s small stable making big Olympic push

“Rowing started to move [in Israel] only after this center was built.”

Daniel Rowing Center 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Daniel Rowing Center 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Water sports in Israel have enjoyed immense popularity in recent years, with the most divers per capita in the world and athletes winning Olympic gold medals and world championships in windsurfing and kitesurfing.
But while these sports crowd the headlines and fill up tourism pamphlets, athletes and officials at the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv are quietly pushing for similar recognition.
For over 150 years, thousands of fans line the banks of the Thames river for the annual boat race between the Oxford and Cambridge University boat clubs, and then again for the Henley Royal Regatta, an international tournament drawing top-schools from the USA like Harvard and the University of Washington.
The activity at the Daniel Rowing Center is tranquil by comparison. The tradition there dates back about ten years, one side is dedicated to rowing, the other to kayaking and outside are a fleet of dragon boats.
They have about 100 boats total, two training areas, weight rooms and conference centers.
“Rowing started to move [in Israel] only after this center was built,” said Eitan Gluzman, general manager of Daniel Rowing Center and president of the Israeli Rowing Federation.
“It’s quite a difficult sport to do. You have to put in a lot of time, be very determined and it’s not a group sport.”
Although many rowing events in America and Britain take place in eights and sometimes fours, Israel’s Olympic hopes revolve around two athletes: Dani Fridman and Oleg Gonorovsky.
“Both of them hopefully will sit in a double and then we can qualify for the Olympic Games,” Gluzman said.
Fridman in particular has done his country right this year. Taking gold medals in the Israeli championship for the ninth year in a row, he was also a gold medalist in the Catalonia Open, the Croatia Open, took bronze in the Italian Open championship and fifth in the German Open in Essen.
The list of accolades goes on.
Winning the Israeli championship has become a sort of annual tradition for Friedman, who is ranked sixth in Europe right now, but his impressive rowing resume is lacking a crucial element: an Olympic medal. The Daniel Rowing Center wants to fix that.
“It’s not just [going] to train it’s all day, you learn from everything,” Fridman said. “it’s not just a sport, it’s a spirit.”
The Daniel Rowing Center wants that spirit spread all over Israel. To do that they organized “the sea of friends,” a PR campaign of sorts, recruiting potential rowers to a sport constantly undermined by basketball, soccer and tennis.
The goal is to spread nautical activities all over the country, Gluzman said, and place “the disabled people, the underprivileged people alongside with the champions.”
For the athletes, the Daniel Rowing Center is something far more simple: it’s a home.
“They’re trying to take an individual sport in Israel, which is very hard to push, and just push it,” said paralympic athlete Moran Samuel, who trains at the Daniel Rowing Center.
“For me as a disabled person it’s the only place I can train. Everything here is wheelchair friendly, even the showers.”
“It’s unique in Israel to have a facility that holds everything inside. the gym, the weight lifting, the rowing, the machines. When you have everything in one place it’s much easier to do the best you can.”
Samuel and Fridman agree: training for Rio drains you. Fridman had to quit his job as a surf instructor and lifeguard to train full time,receiving a small stipend from the Israel Rowing Federation.
“It’s like work. You come at like six in the morning, you come to the club, go to the training session,” he said. ”After this you go and rest a little bit. After this you begin the second session.”
With the future for Israeli rowing brightening on step at a time, Gluzman and Fridman know they have to take things one race at a time.
This week, Fridman competes in the Maccabiah games against major threats from the USA and others while next month he will be at the World Championship in South Korea.
With the help of the Daniel Rowing Center, step by step Israeli rowing seems to be blazing its trail to the Olympics.