Sinai Says: Gold medalist Fridman learning the hard way

It's one thing to fail to defend your Olympic title, but it's an entirely different thing to not even have the chance to do so.

It's one thing to fail to defend your Olympic title, but it's an entirely different thing to not even have the chance to do so. Gal Fridman will have to come to terms with his failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games in the coming days and weeks, and it won't be easy. Three-and-a-half years ago Fridman was on the top of the world after claiming Israel's first ever Olympic gold medal at the Athens games. The 32-year-old became a household name overnight and even had his photo on the front page of the New York Times the following day. Everything, however, has gone wrong since. For starters the International Sailing Federation introduced the new Neil Pryde windsurfer in place of Fridman's beloved Mistral model immediately after the 2004 Olympics. Fridman not only won the Athens gold on the Mistral, but also claimed a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta games with it and finished first in the 2002 World Championships. Fridman's huge experience on the Mistral, which was his biggest asset, was instantly gone with the change, and to make even matters worse for himself, he waited almost an entire year before starting to train on the Neil Pryde. One of Fridman's biggest strengths was that he was superb in windy conditions on the Mistral. The Neil Pryde, however, was designed as a far quicker windsurfer, which basically canceled out Fridman's significant advantage. Fridman obviously deserved a break after his performance in Greece, but his time away from the sea proved to be the start of his undoing. While all of his competitors, including 21-year-old Shahar Tzuberi, who will represent Israel at the Beijing Olympics after winning a bronze medal at last weeks World Championships, got to know the strengths and weaknesses of the new surfer, Fridman was spending time racing mountain bikes. Cycling has long been Fridman's second love, but his hobby would prove to cost him dearly. Fridman entered the second half of his Olympic preparations needing to finish in a top 10 position in a major event to have any chance of getting to Beijing. He only managed, however, to finish the 2007 World and European Championships in 34th and 29th positions respectively and began last weeks World Championships needing a miracle. Tzuberi, who finished the 2007 World and European Championships in eighth and sixth position respectively, was miles ahead in the race to represent Israel in China thanks to his hard work and consistent performances, meaning Fridman had to finish in front of his young counterpart in New Zealand to have any hope of overtaking him in the overall race. Fridman's prayers, however, were not answered at Takapuna beach in New Zealand last week and as recent form predicted he only managed to finish the competition in a bitterly disappointing 32nd position, 29 places below Tzuberi. "It is possible to fail in many ways... while to succeed is possible only in one way," Greek philosopher Aristotle said. Sadly, Fridman had to learn that lesson the hard way. [email protected]