Gal, Kliger making a splash in sailing

Up-and-coming duo set sights on the 2008 Olympics.

kliger and gal 88 (photo credit: )
kliger and gal 88
(photo credit: )
Only days after fighting the waves at the 470 Class Sailing World Championships in Portugal last week, bronze medalists Udi Gal and Gidi Kliger look surprisingly relaxed, chatting with The Jerusalem Post in the Oishi Oishi Sushi Bar in Herzliya, overlooking the windswept marina. Though happy with their recent victory, the ambitious sailors have set loftier goals for themselves. "For us, winning is only first place," says Gal, leaning back as he sips his ice water. "A sailor going into a competition thinks about how to come out as a winner and focuses on their target to do their best." Their next big target is the summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008. This will be the pair's second shot at the Olympics, since they competed in Athens in 2004, but failed to medal after finishing in a disappointing 13th place. They attribute that loss to lack of preparation for the unfamiliar wind patterns there. "That was our biggest mistake," admits Gal. "All the other sailors accustomed themselves to the Athens weather. But this time, we are more focused for Beijing conditions." "We can medal there," declares Kliger, confidently. "Nobody is more stable than us. "For now, we are one of the top teams," agrees Gal. "By working hard and improving even more, we can be in a position to win the gold medal." The dedicated duo has been working for literally their entire lives to make this goal a reality. They grew up together by the beach in Tel Aviv, and both developed a love for sailing at the early age of eight. "You have to be born into the sailing world," explains Gal. They sailed regularly every day after school, encouraged by their respective parents, who are employed as sailing instructors for the local youngsters. Growing up with sailing ingrained in them a genuine love for the sport. But sailing is not just a sport that they are passionate about; it's a way of life for which they are willing to make sacrifices to ensure that they can continue doing it. "It's something that you work for all your life because you believe in it," says Gal. "You build your life around it." "I like sailing because I feel like I fulfill myself," says Kliger. "I like to see the progress that I make because it is my life. It's about survival." "Money is not our goal," Kliger continues. "It is just a tool to continue what we do." The athletes don't have regular salaries; most of their income is from private funding of donors and sponsors from companies such as investment company Perfect. They do receive some money from government taxes and from the Olympic committee, in addition to the monetary prizes awarded for each individual competition that they win. Their ability to work together effectively as a team has played a large role in their success thus far. "It's our mentality," says Kliger. "Me and Udi are different than each other, and each sailor brings his own strengths, but we combine our skills and complete each other." "We really help each other out," confirms Gal. "We are working together because we are good." More than physical fitness, they explain that sailing is a sport that involves strategy and planning, down to the last detail of the precise location of a sail. "You need mental strengths and have to do logical thinking," describes Kliger. "It's kind of like a large chess game." Since there does not appear to be a viable future here in sailing, the two are contemplating leaving Israel to pursue their dreams. Gal, 29, and Kliger, 28, are among the younger competitors in the field, since athletes often continue their sailing careers well into their forties. "We must continue for years," says Kliger. "Right now we are building ourselves up, so that in 20 years, we will be the best we can. If we stop sailing now, it's a waste." But they are hoping that their recent victory will make Israelis more aware of the sport and more supportive of it, something that is a struggle since sailing does not easily lend itself to fans and spectators, like other sports such as soccer. "By winning, it gives us more exposure," explains Gal. "Israel is a country of sea, so it's developing and has a lot of potential. The support that we get from people is what gives us the energy to continue." "We love representing Israel," Kliger adds. Gal dreams of winning the gold in Beijing next year and of hearing the sounds of Hatikva playing at the medals ceremony. "I want to be able to take out my little Israeli flag that I carry around with me and wave it," he says with a smile.