Ice dance duo may miss out on Olympics

The Olympic Committee of Israel has decided that it will not send athletes unless they are among the best in the world.

skaters zaretsky 298.88 (photo credit: Lionel Gaffen)
skaters zaretsky 298.88
(photo credit: Lionel Gaffen)
The Olympic spirit is alive and well as thousands of athletes from across the globe prepare for next month's Winter Games in Turin, Italy. But in Israel, bureaucracy may win out over sporting achievements as two young ice dancers from Metulla, Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky, may be denied the chance to compete despite the fact that they have been granted a place at the games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Olympic Committee of Israel (OCI) has decided that it will not send athletes to represent the country unless they are among the best in the world. Their definition in the Zaretskys' case - to be among the top 10 in Europe. To that end, the OCI is refusing to confirm the Zaretskys' participation until after the European Championships in Lyon, France, on January 16-22. Alex Gilady, the Israeli representative at the IOC, told The Jerusalem Post: "I really want to see how they do in Lyon... If they do well, it will be worthwhile to have them selected for the team. However, if they do very poorly, then they'll just have to wait for the Vancouver, Canada, Olympics in 2010. I certainly hope that they will do well." But the winter sports community in Israel feels that waiting four more years could be devastating not just to the Zaretskys' development, but to all winter sports here. Israel Ice Skating Federation chairman Boris Chait, whose daughter Galit teams with Sergei Sakhnovsky to form the country's No. 1 Ice Dance duo, has been trying to make the OCI see the difference between athletes in the summer sports areas and those in winter sports. "It takes generations to develop world class athletes in winter sports. They don't just come along," he said. "Israel doesn't have a surplus of world class athletes, and the Zaretskys are our future in Ice Dance. It's a very specific and very expensive sport, and if the Zaretskys won't be selected to go, it will put our entire development program back by four years, and it's a disaster in the making for the Winter Olympic program in Israel." In other countires, the decision would be an obvious one. American President George W. Bush signed a special appropriations bill recently to enable Canadian Ice Dancer Tanith Belbin to become an instant American citizen and represent the United States in Turin. Poland as well would jump at the chance to send more athletes to the games. If the OCI formally cancels the Zaretskys' dream, it would be two Polish athletes that took their place. Eva Kierzowska, the general secretary of the Polish Ice Skating Federation, speaking on behalf of Zenon Dagle, the head of the Polish I.S.F. told the Post: "Our ice dance couple are the first alternates, and we are just waiting for the decision of the Olympic Committee of Israel. It would be a great chance for us, and we would be very happy to be able to send our skaters." This bizarre situation arose due the early retirement of Natalia Gudina and Alexei Beletsky, whose results combined with those of Chait and Sakhnovsky placed Israel high enough on the list of Ice Dancers to be given two teams at Turin. The Zaretskys, in their first season as seniors, replaced Gudina and Beletsky as the No. 2 Israeli team and were invited to and skated well in their first Grand Prix competitions. Last year the brother/sister duo recorded an impressive fourth place finish at the World Junior Championships. In the meantime, all the necessary travel and team outfitting preparations have being made for them. The two were also invited to a ceremony that was scheduled to be held at the Beit Hanasi with President Moshe Katsav on Wednesday, before it was cancelled due to the fact that Chait and Sakhnovsky were unable to attend. The Israeli delegation to Turin currently stands at three, including slalom skier Mikail Renzhin. OCI chairman Zvi Warshviak feels that the guidelines set down by the committee must be adhered to, although exceptions have been made, both for the Summer and Winter Olympics, in the past. "It is our committee decision that in order for the Zaretskys to go to Turin, they will have to have a good showing in Lyon, France, which for us means around eleventh place," Warshviak told the Post. "If they have even a 14th or 15th place showing, that might also be good enough to send them. We are aware that they have a place secured for them by the International Olympic Committee, and that other countries are waiting to take their place if they don't go, but we feel the policy that we have adopted is a good one." Precedents to send lower ranking Israeli athletes to the Olympic Games have been made in the past, so it's not as though there is any extreme rigidity involved in the decisions made by the OCI. Chait and Sakhnovsky got their first Olympic chance in 1998, although they were ranked at only 17th in the world at that time. That experience helped Chait and Sakhnovsky climb into the top 10 in the world and reach their peak with a bronze medal at the 2002 World Championship, Israel's first medal in winter sports. The Zaretskys are now ranked 20th. Renzhin has also benefited from leniency. He will be the first Israeli skier to take part in the games, even though he is currently ranked in the mid-40s in World Class competition in his events. In a recent Skate Israel competition, one of the competitors from England made a comment about how fortunate such a small country like Israel was to (at the time) have three world class Ice Dance couples. In Great Britain, despite their vast resources, it has taken a couple of generations to develop a replacement for former four-time world champions and Olympic gold medal winners Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean. Their current No. 1s, Sinead and John Kerr, are ranked 18th. Sakhnovsky treated for tendonitis Sergei Sakhnovsky is suffering from a case of knee tendonitis, which is being treated by a team of doctors in the USA, where he trains with Galit Chait. Sakhnovsky has undergone laser and ultrasound therapy and was given an MRI. The injury is not expected to keep the duo out of the Olympics, although ther is participation at the European Championships could be in jeopardy. The National Figure Skating Championships that were scheduled to take place on January 5-6 at the Canada Center in Metulla had to be postponed, with a tentative new date being scheduled for just after the World Championships in March. The reason stems from the ongoing effects of the court injunction that has been taken out by the Canada Center against the Israel Ice Skating Federation. That decision was made prior to the tendonitis in Sakhnovsky's knee.