Israeli athletes looking to shine at Nationals

International stars to compete alongside local favorites at Hadar Yosef during two-day meet.

Yevgeniy Minenko 88.298 (photo credit: AP)
Yevgeniy Minenko 88.298
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's fastest and strongest athletes will look to shine as the 70th annual Israeli Track & Field Championships begin Tuesday at Hadar Yosef stadium in Tel Aviv. The biggest and most popular meet on the local calender always seems to bring out the best from the Israeli athletes and this year organizers have every reason to expect that some records could fall along the way. Sixteen events - eight men's and eight women's - will be contested in the first day of the two-day event, with several athletes hoping to reach their respective criteria for the European championships next month in Sweden. Pole vault star Alex Averbukh, the reigning European champ, will once again highlight the event, but this time he will be joined by American Brad Walker, who won the gold medal at the World Indoor Championships earlier this year in Moscow. Also scheduled to compete is Dutchman Christian Tamminga, who took the Tel Aviv Games title in 1998 and '99. If they are in peak form, they could target the championship record, 5.85m, set by Averbukh in 2000. Last season he was able to win with a 5.65m effort. The showdown between the two will help to add spice to a competition in which too many of the other events are one-sided. Walker and Tamminga are just two of several dozen or so athletes from ten countries invited to the games to help raise the bar, including a pair of up-and-coming Russian pole vaulters, Andrey Chemov and Sergey Kucheryanu. Aside from the pole vault, all eyes will be on a young generation of female competitors, all of whom can shatter their national marks on any given attempt. Yevgeniya Zabolotniy, whose most recent improvement on her hammer throw mark came less than two weeks ago, is in fine form, as is discus record holder Sivan Jean. Niva Ziv will also aim to turn heads in the triple jump and Rita Pogorelov will try to join the exclusive sub-12-second club in the 100m. Olympian Irina Lenskiy, who is returning to form after two injury plagued seasons, is worth watching in the 100m hurdles. In the men's events, Michael Illin, who broke the 110m hurdles mark last month, will look to hold off last year's winner, 20-year-old Yevgeniy Minenko. Naor Greene remains the favorite in the 400m, but a group of youngsters, including Yuri Shapsai, Gil Sheleg, Yuri Pelles and Betzalel Mizrahi could be nipping at his heels. Azerbaijan's Ibragim Akhmedov and Tuncay Ors of Turkey will also take part. As always, Day 1 will draw to a close with the men's 100m final. Ram Mor, who edged brother Tal by one hundredth of a second to win last year (10.61), is among the favorites alongside veteran Micky Bar-Yeoshua. During the evening, high jumper Niki Palli and pole vaulter Olga Dogadko, will be honored as men's and women's the Israel Athletics Association's 2005 Athletes of the Year. Both will be in action on Wednesday night. Palli's coach, Albert Funjin, will receive the Coach of the Year award. Other main events scheduled for Wednesday include the women's shot put, the men's and women's javelin, a 60m Special Olympics run, the men's 5,000m, the men's 4x100m relay and the Athlete of the Tournament award. On TV: The 70th annual Israeli Track & Field Championships (live from 6:45-9 p.m. On Channel 1)