The Olympic Committee of Israel announced on Thursday evening the criteria Israeli athletes will need to meet in order to participate in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The committee decided to stiffen its previous standards following the disappointing performances by many of the Israeli athletes at the 2004 Games in Athens. "We have learned from past experience that we need to create our own criteria and not settle for the standards set by the International Olympic Committee," OCI chairman Zvi Varshaviak said on Thursday. "Our goal is to send a quality delegation. We want to send a team of winners, not just a group that settles for participating." The Israeli athletes will have 18 months, beginning on January 1, 2007, to meet the criteria set by the committee. Despite the toughening of standards, the Israeli delegation to the Games could be bigger than ever, as the under-21 soccer team is extremely close to qualifying for the Olympics for the first time in 32 years. The team, which will compete at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship next summer, needs to finish in the top four of the tournament and could even book a spot in Beijing with a fifth-place finish if England reaches the semifinals. Most Israeli athletes will need to finish in high positions in European or world championships to book a ticket to Beijing. Athens bronze medalist Arik Ze'evi will need, for example, to finish in the top five at the European judo championships or the top seven of the worlds to secure an Olympic berth. "We have decided that for an athlete to reach the Olympic Games, he will need to succeed in the European or world championships," said Gili Lustig, the manager of the OCI's elite sports unit. "We came to the conclusion that we need to reduce the size of the delegation. Too many athletes failed to fulfill the expectations at the Athens Olympics." The official announcement of which Israeli athletes get to go to China will be made by the OCI two months before the start of the Olympics.