Sinai Says: Drama as Zubari, Mashiah battle for Olympic nod

The two have never been the best of friends, but things have escalated into an all-out war since September’s European Championships.

Nimrod Mashiah 311 (photo credit: Israel Surfing Association)
Nimrod Mashiah 311
(photo credit: Israel Surfing Association)
To say that tensions are running high between Shahar Zubari and Nimrod Mashiah ahead of the start of the windsurfing World Championships next Monday would be the understatement of the century.
Windsurfing is surely one of the worst spectator sports in the world, but it is also one which has supplied Israel with three of its seven Olympic medals as well as a storyline every sports reporter dreams of.
Zubari and Mashiah have never been the best of friends, but things have escalated into an all-out war since September’s European Championships.
With just one Israeli windsurfer to represent the country at the London Olympics, Zubari and Mashiah are fighting for an honor they have dreamed about all their lives.
Zubari, who claimed a bronze medal at the Beijing Games and won back-to-back European gold medals in 2009 and 2010, was set to win a third straight medal at the Europeans entering the final day of competition in Burgas, Bulgaria, two months ago.
However, with the continental championships being the first of four competitions which will determine who of the two goes to London, Mashiah, who was already out of medal contention, spent the last and crucial race trying to hamper Zubari’s progress.
Mashiah’s underhanded tactics worked, resulting in Zubari finishing the final race in eighth place and dropping to fourth position overall.
Instead of collecting a medal and picking up 15 rankings points according to the Olympic Committee of Israel’s (OCI) point system, Zubari settled for a mere seven points, just four more than Mashiah, who ended the competition in eighth place.
Zubari claimed that his rival acted unethically, while Mashiah maintained that he did no wrong and abided by the competition rules.
The local race officials agreed with him, but the uproar that followed Israel’s loss of a medal due to the infighting eventually resulted in an Israeli sailing association disciplinary hearing.
The association’s committee found Mashiah guilty of illegally blocking Zubari and deducted two points from the total he collected in Burges, increasing the gap between the two to six points.
Unsurprisingly, Mashiah was outraged, claiming that dirty politics stood behind his punishment.
The two windsurfers kept journalists busy for days by exchanging insults via the media, setting the stage for next week’s World Championships in Perth, Australia.
The second of the four Olympic qualifying competitions set by the OCI will be extremely significant to the outcome of the fierce battle between Zubari and Mashiah, with a gold medal, for example, rewarding its winner with 50 ranking points.
Perhaps it should come as little surprise as they are opposites in almost every way possible, but interestingly Zubari and Mashiah have fared very differently in World and European championships.
While he claimed a bronze medal at the Olympics and the worlds in 2008 and won two straight European golds, the relatively small and slender Zubari has disappointed at the recent global championships, finishing in 17th place in 2010, a year after coming 13th.
On the other hand, the big and brawny Mashiah, who has a completely different surfing style to Zubari, won his second straight medal at the World Championships last year, taking a bronze in Kerteminde, Denmark a year after claiming a silver.
A similar outcome in Perth next week and the two-point disciplinary deduction will be a distant memory for Mashiah.
The 2011 worlds may only mark the midway point of the ferocious fight between Zubrai and Mashiah, with next March’s worlds in Spain and a World Cup event in the Netherlands still to come.
However, a lopsided outcome in Perth will open a gap that will not be easy to close next year.
Zubari and Mashiah have both done exceptionally well in the past three years and either will be one of Israel’s best medal hopes in London.
But only one will go.
Windsurfing may not be an easy sport to follow, but the next chapter in the melodrama involving Zubari and Mashiah is well worth waiting for.
Not only is any outcome possible, but regardless of what eventually unfolds, the rivalry between the two is set to reach new heights, or perhaps more accurately new lows, and that is something no Israeli sports fan wants to miss.
Follow Allon Sinai on Twitter: @AllonSinai