JPost's 2008 Sports Personality of the Year - Vote here

The past 12 months have been full of contrasts for Israeli sportsmen.

Zubari bronze 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Zubari bronze 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The past 12 months have been full of contrasts for Israeli sportsmen. But, as we announce the nominations for The Jerusalem Post's 2008 Israeli Sports Personality of the Year, that is not to say there has been a lack of outstanding performances. The shortlist of six nominations encapsulates some of the most exciting moments that have featured in our sports pages over the last year. While many of Israel's Olympic athletes failed to make the impact they had hoped to during this summer's Games in Beijing, Shahar Zubari, the young sailor who came home with a bronze medal, captured the hearts and minds of the nation. And, as had been hoped, September's Paralympics gave us a number of new idols, not least swimmer Inbal Pezaro who won three silver medals in the pool. Away from China, the local sports scene threw up the unlikeliest of winners in Hapoel Holon, which defeated perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv in a thrilling game at the Nokia Arena in May to capture the Israeli basketball championship. Holon coach and owner Miki Dorsman was the catalyst for his team's success. Away from home Israelis have been impressing on the European soccer scene, both in coaching and playing. Avraham Grant took Chelsea to the Champions League final and Elyaniv Barda is scoring hatfuls of goals for Genk in Belgium. Meanwhile, tennis star Andy Ram showed he can survive without long time doubles partner Yoni Erlich who was injured for the latter part of the season. Although the nominations were decided by the Post's sports staff, the final decision is up to you the reader. Let us know your choice by voting online at the sports section of www.jpost.com or by emailing sports@jpost.com. The final results will be announced in the December 26 issue of the paper along with the other winners of the Jerusalem Post's 2008 Sports Awards, including Team of the Year, Young Sports Personality of the Year and Foreign Sports Personality of the Year, which will be chosen by the Post's sports staff. SHAHAR ZUBARI What a year it has been for the tenacious 22-year-old windsurfer from Eilat. In January he was seen as simply a possible medal contender in an Israeli Olympic team travelling to Beijing with athletes with far more international experience. But Zubari soon proved the doubters wrong with a stunning performances in the waters of Qingdao, winning the first race of the Olympic Neil Pryde windsurfing competition and going on to take the bronze medal. As his fellow Israel teammates failed to impress in sports including judo, tennis, pole vaulting and sailing, Zubari absorbed the pressure and ensured the 2008 summer Games would not be the first for 20 years that his country returned without a medal. His impressive displays brought praise from around the Israeli sporting world and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert even took time out to phone Zubari and congratulate him. And Zubari does not look like being a flash-in-the-pan winner. Just a few weeks after returning from China he won the gold medal in the RS:X section of the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth, England. The medal may be a pointer for things to come, as the race was held on the very waters which will be used during the next summer Olympics, to be based in London in 2012. Zubari's reputation as a sporting hero had been somewhat tainted earlier in September when he talked about how uncomfortable he felt among the Chinese and described them as sh*ts in an interview. The comments prompted the Chinese embassy in Tel Aviv to cancel a reception for the Israeli Olympic athletes, although he later apologized for his rudeness. INBAL PEZARO The Paralympics get only a fraction of the attention which surrounds the media-frenzied regular summer Olympics. But the games for disabled athletes often produce just as many inspirational stars for the world to admire. In September one of those heroines was an Israeli swimmer named Inbal Pezaro. Unlike Zubari, Pezaro was expected to win at least one medal at the Paralympics. But the 21-year-old exceeded all expectations, coming in second in three finals - the 100 meters freestyle, 200m freestyle and 100m breastroke. Pezaro's smiling face which featured in all the Israeli newspapers summed up her positive attitude which illustrated the way sport can force people to face up to and overcome adversity. Having been born with a blood problem in her spinal cord which caused her to become crippled in her lower limbs, Pezaro always looked beyond her disability. She is now a veteran of two Paralympics and the future only looks bright for this young lady representing the blue and white. AVRAHAM GRANT While 2008 may have been the year the former Israel national team coach was sacked by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich it is hard not to admire Grant's achievements in one of the most difficult jobs in soccer. Hardly any sports analysts gave him a chance of achieving anything of note when he was appointed Chelsea manager following Jose Mourinho's resignation in September 2007. But Grant answered his critics with results on the pitch, only narrowly missing out on the Champions League and English Premier League titles. His greatest achievement was to inspire the Blues to fight to reach the final of Europe's premier competition. Chelsea lost on penalties after captain John Terry slipped while taking his spot kick on that fateful May night in Moscow. However, there is little doubt that it will be a very long time that any other Israeli matches the achievements of the man from Petah Tikva. Grant may not have done much more than traveled round the world visiting sporting arenas since he was dismissed back in May. But his elevation to the highest echelons of international club soccer meant he is one of only two nominees to have also featured in last year's list. MIKI DORSMAN What Dorsman's Hapoel Holon team achieved last season will stay in the memories of many Israeli sports fan for many years to come. The team in yellow and purple had only been promoted from the second tier National League the previous season and survival in the top flight was considered its main objective by the majority of local basketball gurus. All except for those working for Holon itself, that is. Dorsman, then both the owner and coach, managed to blend together experience, youth and little-known foreign talent to create a formidable team which swept aside all that it came up against. Journeyman Malik Dixon, young American PJ Tucker and Israel's Moran Rot were three of the standout players in the team that took the title. And it was Dorsman who put it all together. Holon reached the Basketball Super League's Final Four with an impressive 20-7 record in regular season play and went on to overcome Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final with a stunning Dixon basket with 2.3 seconds to play. The victory was the first time a team other than Maccabi had won the title for 14 years and only the second time in 39 years, cementing Holon's and Dorsman's place in history. ELYANIV BARDA Many Israeli soccer players have tried their luck abroad, but few have found success on the tough European fields. When Elyaniv Barda moved to Belgian side KRC Genk in the summer of 2007 he was soon followed by his former Hapoel Tel Aviv teammates Gili Vermut and Salim Toamah. And it is telling that, while Vermut has already returned to Hapoel after failing to hold down a place at AA Gent and Toamah looks set to leave Standard Liege in January, Barda continues to find success at Genk. The 26-year-old finished the 2007/08 season as the second highest score in the Belgian league with 16 goals. Unlike last year's Israeli Sports Personality of the Year nominee Yossi Benayoun, who has been unable to hold down a first team place at Liverpool in England, Barda has become one of the stars of his club side, attracting plaudits from around Europe. He has also made an impact with the Israel national team, scoring three goals so far, including an impressive strike against the Ivory Coast last month. ANDY RAM This year has proved that Israel's doubles superstar Andy Ram is one of the best, if not the best, tennis player the country has ever produced. 2008 started the best way possible for the Uruguayan-born Jerusalemite when he and partner Yoni Erlich erupted in celebration after winning the Australian Open. It was the first Grand Slam title the pair had won together and the 7-5, 7-6 (4) victory over Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement in Melbourne prompted scenes of delight with Ram riding around the court on Erlich's shoulders. However it is important to note that while this was the first time Ram had won a major together with Erlich it was actually his third Grand Slam win, having won the mixed doubles tournaments in the 2007 at the French Open with Nathalie Dechy and at Wimbledon in 2006 with Vera Zvonareva. Ram and Erlich continued to have a good season, despite the blip of losing to Clement and Llodra in the first round of the Olympic doubles tournament. But Ram's defining moments of the year came after Erlich's season was ended with an elbow injury. Ram soldiered on, teaming up with various partners including Llodra himself and winning two consecutive tournaments in October - in Lyon and Vienna. He also paired with Harel Levy to put Israel 2-1 up in its Davis Cup World Group playoff against Peru in September. Photo credits: AP and Asaf Kliger