Surfing rivalry between Zubari and Mashiah is making waves

Battle brewing to represent Israel at the 2012 London Olympics.

Windsurfing 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Windsurfing 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Windsurfing may well be the worst spectator sport in the world.
Unless you’ve got a helicopter or a spare yacht, the only way you can watch the performance of your favorite surfers is either from kilometers away on the shore or via the championships Web site on the internet.
Nevertheless, the battle brewing between Shahar Zubari and Nimrod Mashiah to represent Israel at the 2012 London Olympics is one well worth following over the next two years.
The word “battle” is often overused in sports, but not in this case.
The rivalry between Zubari and Mashiah is quite literally a fight between two opposites, from which only one winner will arise. The two aren’t even on speaking terms, making their race to appear at the London Games not only professional, but personal as well.
While the 24-year-old Zubari is relatively small and slender in body type, Mashiah (at 22) is big and brawny, meaning the two men also have completely different surfing styles.
Any way you look at the two athletes reveals that they are virtually a mirror image of each other.
The real reason the head-to-head clash between Zubari and Mashiah is of special interest is because Olympic rules dictate that each country can only send one representative to the RS:X windsurfing competition.
Zubari and Mashiah have both done exceptionally well in the past two years and either of the two will be among Israel’s best medal hopes in London.
However, only one will be taking part in the competition at Weymouth in two years’ time, meaning they are not only contesting for a place in the Games over the next 21 months, but are also essentially battling for an Olympic medal long before Israel’s delegation arrives in the English capital.
Zubari and Mashiah have done so well in recent years that it is even difficult to determine which surfer is the current frontrunner entering the crucial stretch.
Mashiah won his second straight medal at the windsurfing World Championships on Saturday, finishing in third position in Kerteminde, Denmark.
The 22-year-old claimed a silver at the event last year and has now joined Amit Inbar and Gal Fridman (who battled for supremacy in similar fashion to Zubari and Mashiah throughout the 1990’s) as the only Israelis to win multiple world medals.
Zubari, on the other hand, disappointed at the worlds for a second consecutive year, finishing in 17th place a year after coming 13th.
The 2008 Beijing bronze medalist is, however, the two-time reigning European champion (2009, 2010) and has also already proven he can succeed on the Olympic stage.
Next year’s World Championships will be the official start line for the Zubari-Mashiah showdown, with each significant competition after that to be taken into consideration in the ultimate decision to be made by the Olympic Committee of Israel just a couple months before the London Games.
“It is cruel only one surfer can go to the Olympics,” the director of Israel’s Elite Sport Department, Gili Lostig, told The Jerusalem Post.
“But those are the IOC’s rules and I think competition in sports is an advantage as it pushes the athletes to improve. It forces them to keep looking for ways to get better and will bring out the best from both surfers.”
Windsurfing may not be most people’s sport of choice, but when it comes to international success, the country’s surfers tower above all other local athletes. To wit, three of Israel’s seven Olympic medals have come in the sport, with local windsurfers accumulating 19 medals in World and European championships over the past 18 years.
That will likely be the case once more at the London Olympics. But one question still remains to be answered – will our hopes be pinned on Zubari or Mashiah?