Sinai Says: An extraordinary personality

We may only be seven days into 2009, but Israeli sport already has an early candidate for its personality of the year.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We may only be seven days into 2009, but Israeli sport already has an early candidate for its personality of the year. Arie Selinger's volleyball coaching career has been nothing short of astounding. However, it pales in comparison to his life story. Born in Poland in 1937, Selinger and his family were separated by the Nazis in 1942 and he was sent with his mother to a concentration camp. After surviving the camp, Arie arrived in Israel in the American Red Cross's first boatload of immigrants and soon discovered his passion for sports, especially volleyball. He played for the national volleyball team between 1954 and 1963, participating in the 1956 World Championships in Paris. After graduating from the Wingate Institute, he began a career as a physical education teacher, and simultaneously coached the Israeli women's team, guiding it to eighth place at the 1967 European Championships in Turkey. He left Israel in 1969 to study at the University of Illinois and joined the US women's team's coaching staff in 1975. Selinger guided the team to a silver medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the first medal won by an American team in Olympic volleyball competition. Selinger was a volleyball innovator and quickly got worldwide recognition, with his 1987 book "Power Volleyball" becoming a classic among coaches. Perhaps the brightest moment of his coaching career came in the 1992 Barcelona Games. Selinger built the Dutch men's national team from almost nothing and led it to a silver medal, four years after he guided it to fifth place in the Seoul Games. He was inducted into the volleyball Hall-of-Fame in 1995 and in recent years coached women's teams in Japan. In June 2007 he finally turned his attention back to Israeli volleyball, starting what is now known as the Selinger project. After the Olympic Committee of Israel, the Israel Volleyball Association and an anonymous donator provided the financing, Selinger built a national women's team from scratch, selecting 22 players and training them four hours a day, six days a week. The side's first target was to qualify for the 2009 European Championships. Selinger's team, however, only finished third in a four-team group, which also included Turkey, Greece and Montenegro, winning three and losing three matches last June. Despite the disappointment, the young players gained valuable experience and proved this past weekend that Selinger's dream of reaching the 2012 London Olympics may well still become a reality. Israel won all three of its matches against Great Britain, Portugal and Montenegro without losing a set in the 2010 World Championship first qualifying round in Sheffield, England, and for the first time in its history advanced to the second round. In May, the team will play the next round of qualifying in Azerbaijan where it will face Ukraine, Belarus and Azerbaijan itself, hoping to progress to the third and final round and to eventually be among the 24 nations to play in the World Championships in Japan. "I'm already looking forward to the next round," Selinger said after the successful weekend. "We have beaten Azerbaijan and split with Belarus in recent matches so we have a chance. I will look at the positives and the negatives from this weekend and then plan for the next round. "I'm happy the girls and everyone around are starting to see results, but the road ahead is still long and this is just the first step." Selinger is obviously not taking anything for granted, but if his past teaches us anything, don't be surprised to see him and his girls at the London Olympics.