Sinai Says: Satayin scraping his way to success

Haile Satayin may not be the most decorated or gifted athlete in Israel, but it is hard to think of a more remarkable one.

Haile Satayin 370 (photo credit: IAA website)
Haile Satayin 370
(photo credit: IAA website)
The financial crisis in Israeli sports is no secret, but I cannot think of a more heartbreaking illustration of its day-today implications than the one seen in Rishon Lezion on Sunday.
Haile Satayin may not be the most decorated or gifted athlete in Israel, but it is hard to think of a more remarkable one.
The 57-year-old marathon runner represented Israel at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games and remains an active athlete, currently training for January’s Tiberius marathon in the hope of setting the criteria for the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.
Satayin, who still holds the Israeli record at 2:14.21 hours, set an impressive time of 2:18.57 hours in Tiberius last year and will be looking to go two minutes quicker in just over two months to set the IAAF qualifying standard for Moscow.
However, as astounding as Satayin’s achievements are, his name reached the headlines in recent days for far more depressing reasons.
Satayin was spotted working as a steward during Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s BSL win over Hapoel Eilat on Sunday, revealing the recent tribulations he has endured.
Satayin recently separated from his wife, and as he could not afford to rent a place of his own, he has been living in a warehouse at the Hadar Yosef athletics stadium.
Besides still running professionally, until lately Satayin was making ends meet by working as a coach as part of the Professionalism Project funded by the Culture and Sport Ministry and the Olympic Committee of Israel.
However, the program ended on the last day of August and has yet to be extended for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
As a result, Satayin was left without a crucial part of his income and has resorted to taking menial jobs simply to feed his wife and eight children.
Obviously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with working as a steward, but Israeli sports can simply not afford to squander the experience and knowledge of an inspirational sportsman like Satayin.
Satayin, who claims he’s 50 even though his passport says he’s 57, made Aliya in 1991, but it wasn’t until he was fired from his job as a youth running coach in 2002 that he turned his full focus to his own career and began to record personal success.
He surprised everyone by finishing in 32nd position at the European Championships in Munich in 2002, but his greatest achievement to date came two years later. At the age of 43 or 49, depending on whom you ask, Satayin ended the Olympic marathon in Athens in 20th position despite being by far the oldest runner in the field. He completed the course in a time of 2:17.25 hours, producing one of his top runs when it mattered most.
One of the most amazing aspects about Satayin’s career is that he consistently comes up with his very best performances on the big occasions.
In the World and European Championships in 2005 and 2006 he once more recorded excellent times and came in 21st and 18th places, respectively.
He was still among the world’s very best as recent as five years ago, ending the global championships in Osaka, Japan in 19th place before finishing in a relatively disappointing 69th position at the Beijing Games.
Satayin just missed out on qualification for London 2012, but he still sees no reason to retire.
Nevertheless, it is hard to vision him achieving any kind of success if he has to continue to make a living as a steward and spend his nights in a warehouse.
The Israel Athletics Association currently receives just NIS 3.7 million a year from the country and without the extra funding for the Professionalism Project, the likes of Satayin have been left for dead.
The IAA has got one of its sponsors to fund a year’s worth of rent for Satayin, but its budgetary constraints mean that the future of the sport in Israel remains as bleak as ever.
As things currently stand, keep an eye out for the occasional Olympian when you next visit a grocery store or a basketball game, you just might bump into one while he or she are stuffing the shelves or clearing the exit.
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