Sinai Says: Israel's swimmers on course for success

The future of the sport here is looking bright once more.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is no coincidence that a record 15 swimmers will represent Israel at next week's World Championships in Rome. The Israel Swimming Association embarked on a long-term plan after the 2004 Athens Olympics and, if the early signs are anything to by, the future of the sport here is looking bright once more. Israel's swimmers exceeded expectations by reaching four semifinals at last year's Beijing Olympics and ISA chairman Noam Zvi believes that was a sign of things to come. "We drew up a plan in which the ISA will oversee the teaching of swimming from elementary school level upwards and the results are beginning to show," Zvi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "People naturally focus on the top swimmers, but for a third straight year we have had a medalist at the junior European Championships. I think this is a result of the good work being done at the different levels." Zvi is also confident that Israel's swimmers will be back in world and Olympic finals very soon, perhaps even next week. "We are no longer settling for semifinals. We believe Guy Barnea (50 meters backstroke), Amit Ivri (50m butterfly) and Miki Malul (50m breaststroke) all have a very good chance of reaching a final and we are also hoping for a final in an Olympic event," said Zvi, referring to the fact that the only 50m race contested at the Olympics is the 50m freestyle. The stars of the team at last summer's Olympics were backstroke specialist Barnea, Gal Nevo (Individual Medley), Nimrod Shapria Bar-Or (freestyle), Tom Be'eri (breaststroke) and Alon Mandel (butterfly), and they will carry Israeli hopes once more next week. The man who is in charge of all of the above and perhaps deserves more credit than any other individual for the renaissance of Israeli swimming is coach Leonid Kaufman. Kaufman, who coached the USSR swimming team between 1987 and 1991, guided Israel's best from 1994 to 2002 and was brought back to the helm once more in January of 2007. "We took Kaufman and told him give us a plan and we will execute it," Zvi said. "The plan bore fruit in Beijing and will bear even more fruit in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics." Kaufman also believes the long-term strategy is beginning to pay off. "This is a good generation of swimmers and thanks to the work done by the ISA and the US collages, at which many of our swimmers train, we are succeeding," said Kaufman, who is looking forward to Rome. "I expect every one of our swimmers to record a personal best in Italy and that's not so simple. Some of them can also reach semis and finals." Swimming is only second to athletics in Olympic terms and as a result succeeding at the sport is extremely difficult. However, Israeli swimming is now on the right course and should it continue to improve at the current rate Olympic finals will become the norm, and one day not too far away perhaps even an Olympic medal will be within reach of the country's best.