Legendary sportsmen Chodorov, Klein win Israel Prize

Chodorov known as national team's legendary goalkeeper in 50s, 60s; Klein is renowned coach of nat'l basketball team and Maccabi TA in 70s, 80s.

ralph klein 88 (photo credit: )
ralph klein 88
(photo credit: )
Two giants in the world of local sport, Ya'acov Chodorov, 79, and Ralph Klein, 74, will finally receive the recognition they deserve during Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations when they are awarded the Israel Prize for their lifetime achievements. Chodorov, the legendary goalkeeper of the national team in the 1950s and 60s and Klein, the mythical coach who led both the national basketball team and Maccabi Tel Aviv to victory after victory in the 1970s and 80s, came together in a rare meeting of two national heroes in the Tel Aviv Hilton to reminisce about their glory days in advance of the award ceremony. Born in Germany, Ralph Klein moved to Hungary in 1939, survived the war (even though his father perished at Auschwitz) and moved to Israel in 1950. At age 19, he joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, for whom he played over 160 games, scored 2,701 points and won eight championships and six state cups. Klein also played 68 games for the national team. As coach for Maccabi Tel Aviv and known as "Mr. Basketball," Klein won 14 championships and the European title in 1977, transforming Maccabi into a major player in Europe. As coach of the national basketball team for many years, Klein was the man behind the team's success in the European Championships in 1979 (second place) and again in 1981 and 1983 (sixth place). In 1983, Klein surprised everyone when he announced his appointment as the coach for the German national team and for BSC Saturn K ln, where he remained as coach until 1985. Ya'acov Chodorov is generally considered to be Israel's alltime finest goalkeeper. During his illustrious career, Chodorov won the championship with Hapoel Tel Aviv and with Hapoel Ramat Gan. In 1951, he turned down an unprecedented offer to play for Arsenal, because he did not want to leave his homeland. Chodorov played in 31 international games, including the famous victories against Yugoslavia in Belgrade and against Wales in Cardiff in the 1958 World Cup qualifying. Both Klein and Chodorov had some harsh words to say about local sport, complaining that Israeli sport is run not by professionals, but by people with political connections. "This is the only country in the world where there are no sports people at the head of the Basketball Association," says Klein. "It begins with sports lessons in schools, which is a kind of easy hour for the children," Chodorov said. "It all begins with the ABC. The people at the top of the sports world are not creative. "Take a look at the advances that the Australians have made in sport over the last few years as an example." Jerusalem Post: What makes the difference between a good sportsman and an outstanding one? Klein: I have been giving lectures on this subject at the Wingate Institute for over 25 years. There are three main components: personal technique, which is dependent on the coach and the sportsman's abilities; his physical fitness, and third and most importantly, his mentality. There are winners and there are losers. To get to the very top, you have to have the mental capability. Chodorov: I agree with Klein. A winner is someone who will fight to win, even if he is playing in a game with friends in the neighborhood or in a training match. When I was the goalkeeper on the national team, I knew that the spectators had come not only to see me, but also to see us win the game and that's why I felt as if I was sent out there by the crowd. When we would lose, I would stay at home and eat ice cream to calm myself down. Nowadays, when a team loses, they all go out to the pub to have a good time. You each have many highlights in your careers. Which would you define as the most important highlight? Klein: That's a very difficult question. Many people think that it is the time when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the European title. But I think the highlight for me was when the national team beat Yugoslavia in 1979 in the European Championship and qualified for the final. Then we took second place in the championships. At that time, Yugoslavia was a force in basketball and they were effectively the world champions. To get an idea of the scope of the achievement - it's as if the Israel football team were to beat Brazil and take second place in the World Cup. Chodorov: For me, without a doubt, the highlight was the game in Cardiff against Wales. But [he adds with humility…] there was that penalty that I just happened to stop. Ralph, one day you suddenly decided to go back to Germany. Surely that was not an easy thing to do, both as a Jew and as someone who was born there? Klein: It certainly wasn't an easy decision for me. What did it for me was the thought that the mighty Germany actually needed a Jewish coach from Israel to train their national team. They told me that they could have turned to any coach from around the world, but it was me that they wanted. I understand those who thought this was a difficult step for me, but it was my decision. After waiting so many years to receive the Israel Prize, do you now feel you have fulfilled a dream? Klein: [Turning to Chodorov with a pained expression, Klein measures his response carefully]: "It has taken so long for our achievements to be recognized. But there was one congratulatory phone call that I expected but never received - from Maccabi Tel Aviv…" "Me too," adds Chodorov. "I have yet to hear from Hapoel Tel Aviv."