Israel's flagbearer aims for one last Olympic success in Beijing

Kayaker Michael Kolganov is proud to represent his country at a third Olympics.

kolganov 88 (photo credit: )
kolganov 88
(photo credit: )
Israeli flat water kayaker Michael Kolganov will hold his country's flag with pride at the opening ceremony in Beijing next Friday after qualifying for the Olympic Games little under a month ago. It will be the 33-year-old's third time representing Israel in the Olympics and, while expectations for his performance are no longer what they once were, Kolganov's wealth of experience may provide him with a crucial edge over the competition. "I want to do the best I possibly can," Kolganov told The Jerusalem Post. "This year I trained hard. I worked very hard in the training camp in Tel Aviv to achieve the goal of doing the best that I can possibly do, and to win everything that I need to win." Eight years ago in Sydney, Kolganov claimed Israel's only medal in the 2000 Games, a bronze in the K1 500m event, and is one of only five Israelis to be decorated at Olympic level. He nearly earned a second that year after finishing fourth in 1,000m K2 competition. Had he done so, he would have become the first Israeli to earn two medals in the same Olympic Games. Kolganov cited the 2000 medal ceremony, when he was awarded his bronze, as the most rewarding moment of his sporting career. "The closing ceremonies in Sydney were very touching," he said, looking back on his success. I won a medal in a very hard competition. "We got into the water, and we had to come out because they told us the event may be postponed because of the weather. "In the end there was a race and I earned a medal. It was very hard, but this got us to the medal ceremony and it is impossible to forget that." Since making aliya from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1995, Kolganov has gone on to capture numerous titles for Israel at international level of flat water canoeing. He was named World Champion twice after besting his competitors in the individual 200m contest in both 1998 and 1999. The former tournament saw him receive the silver medal in the 500m race as well. More recently, Kolganov has evolved the scope of his elite talent to include K2 competitions and in the 2006 European Championships in the Czech Republic, he and partner Barak Lufan claimed the bronze medal in the K2 200m race. Kolganov discovered his love for the sport in the former Soviet Union at the age of 14, after his parents introduced him to the water in the wake of his older brother Andrei, who was already a Soviet youth champion in kayaking. "My big brother started with kayaking and he influenced me. I was a little fat kid and all of my energy went into sports," the now brawny Kolganov said with a smile, as he recalled his parents' efforts to help him lose weight. Despite his achievements at the Olympic level, Kolganov insists the Games were not always his primary goal. "I didn't always want to go to the Olympics," he said. "Before I moved to Israel I wanted to be a world champion. I didn't think about the Olympics. Then I made aliya, and I became a world champion twice. Before that I didn't really understand the purpose of the Olympics." Israel was quick to recognize Kolganov's athletic potential. When it came time for him to serve in the IDF, he did so within the framework of the army's program for sporting excellence. This allowed him to remain close to home, and facilitated his training and development. When the Belgian Canoeing Association announced recently that it would not be sending a representative to the K1 Olympic competition Kolganov, received a new opportunity to represent his country in flat water canoeing, and to prove to the world that he deserves to do so. In just a few weeks time, when the K1 event begins, his 2008 moment of truth will have arrived.