Israeli Sporting Moments of the Decade: No. 5 Averbukh wins gold in Munich

Israeli Sporting Moments

Alex Averbukh flag 248.88 (photo credit: )
Alex Averbukh flag 248.88
(photo credit: )
It is difficult to think of a more symbolic moment in Israeli sports, not only in this decade, but in the country's 61 years of independence. Draped in the Israeli flag with the 2002 European Championship gold medal around his neck, pole vaulter Alex Averbukh wept uncontrollably while the national anthem played at the Munich Olympic Stadium, almost 30 years to the day that 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. In an unprecedented career by Israeli sports standards, Averbukh achieved amazing international success both before and after that unforgettable evening in Germany. He won silver and bronze medals at the World Championships in 2001 and 1999 respectively, claimed the gold medal at the European Indoor Championships in 2000 and reached the final of the Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004. Averbukh, who retired earlier this year, also defended his European title in Goteborg in 2006, but the one moment for which he will forever be remembered came on August 10, 2002. Even as someone who has closely followed Averbukh's entire career, it is a struggle for me to recall if his winning clearance of 5.85-meters came in his first, second or third attempt at the height. Did he shave the bar as he cleared it, or did he soar above it with ease? I really can't remember. However, even those who had never heard of Averbukh until 2002 will easily recognize the photo of him at the top of the podium in Munich. The shot was spread across the front pages of Israel's newspapers and made the headlines of the news shows because it represented so much more than just another sporting triumph. Some 30 years may have passed since the Israeli Olympians were slaughtered in what remains one of the darkest days in sports history. But the national memory of the event refuses to fade and the wound will never truly heal. Averbukh knew all of this before the competition in Munich, and his emotions were laid bare for all to see as the national anthem, "Hatikva", was played in the same stadium which will forever be tarnished by a despicable act of terror. There are precious few sporting moments which truly transcend the playing field and touch something deep in the hearts of the general public, while embodying ideals which have little to do with running fast or jumping high. Averbukh did exactly that when he stood tall and proud as a winner in Munich. "Hatikva" may only be 1 minute and 13 seconds long, but by weeping for those 73 seconds, remembering what had occurred 30 years earlier, Averbukh displayed the power of sports and secured his place inIsraeli history for all eternity. This is the first of a five-part series in which we will count down the most memorable moments in Israeli sports over the past decade. The feature will appear in Thursday's section in each of the next four weeks.