Israelis head to Sweden for Euros

Israel's focus will be on Alex Averbukh and the men's jumping events.

Olga Dogadko  298 (photo credit: AP)
Olga Dogadko 298
(photo credit: AP)
When the 19th European Athletics Championships open in Goteborg, Sweden, on Monday, Israel's focus will be on the men's jumping events. Alex Averbukh, Israel's only ever European champion in athletics, will try to repeat his 2002 pole vault title at Munich, while youngster Niki Palli is hoping for a successful showing in the high jump in his first ever major competition. Averbukh and Palli, who lead a 13-person Israeli delegation to the seven-day-long championships, carry the blue-and-whites' best hopes for real success. Averbukh, 31, is Israel's most successful athlete of all time after adding the European title four years ago to his gold in the 2000 European Indoor Athletics Championships and silver at the 2001 World Championships in Athletics. Averbukh has jumped 5.80 meters this year and has been in good form ahead of these championships. The favorite for gold will be German Tim Lobinger, who has jumped 5.90 this year - higher then anybody in Europe. Six other athletes have jumped 5.80 or higher this year and on the day of the competition, any of them could win a medal. Goteborg may be Averbukh's last chance for a European medal and these championships may prove to be the changing of the guard in Israeli athletics as Palli, 19, could be on course to becoming Israel's leading athlete. Palli jumped 2.30m in the national championships four weeks ago and should qualify for the final of the high jump if he repeats that result. His 2.30m jump was the highest for a junior athlete in the world this year and he will travel to Beijing for the junior world championships next week. Twelve other athletes have jumped 2.30 or higher this year, including Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Holm, who is the favorite for gold. Russians Ivan Ukhov and Yaroslav Rybakov are also likely to be in medal contention and Palli will need to set a personal best to have a chance of a medal. The remaining 11 Israeli athletes have lower expectations then Averbukh and Palli and will all be pleased with personal bests and respectable showings. The marathon will see five Israelis - four men and one woman - competing in the longest race of all. Ayele Setegne, Asaf Bimro, Wodage Zvyda and Swonek Dastao may have a shot at a team medal with only nine teams competing in the race. The results of the three best runners will be combined and a good run by the Israelis might be enough to snatch a medal. One contest already won by Israel is having the oldest athlete in the championships. The 51-year-old Setegne has no intention of retiring soon and may well be at the next European championships in four years. Nili Avramski, who will run in the woman's marathon with the second worst entry time, will be happy with a good personal result. Itai Magidi recently set a new Israeli record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, but his time is still the second worst of all entries and only a big improvement will give him a chance of a spot in the final. Youngster Sivan Jean and veteran Vadim Bavikin are ranked last in the discus throw and the javelin, respectively, and should be satisfied with quality results. Svetlana Gnezdilov in the heptathlon and Tal Mor in the 100m sprint will be the first Israelis in action when they compete on Monday morning. The best Mor can hope for is a quarterfinal spot, with Gnezdilov already achieving her goal by just getting to the championships. Israeli 100m hurdle record-holder Irina Lenskiy has not been at her best and anything but a flight home after the preliminary heats would be considered a success.