Swimmer stays in Beijing to compete 'for dad'

Alon Mandel's father dies in accident at home.

olympic promo 224 (photo credit: )
olympic promo 224
(photo credit: )
Alon Mandel wept quietly as the Israeli flag was raised and "Hatikva" played at the Olympic Village on Thursday afternoon. The swimmer couldn't stop the tears at the flag-raising ceremony. His greatest supporter, his father, was not around to share the realization of his lifelong dream. Mandel was awakened at 4 a.m. on Thursday to be told that his father, Kostya, 51, had died after falling off a ladder in the garden of his Netanya home. Mandel's mother, Rina, initially asked the chiefs of the Olympic Committee of Israel not to wake her son, but two hours later she decided to notify him by phone, concerned that he might find out the terrible news from another source. The 20-year-old vowed to remain at the Games on Thursday. "I intend to compete for my father," he said. "I will help and support my family as soon as I return. My sister is coming to China and that will help me compete." Back home, mother Rina was adamant that Kostya would have insisted that Alon swim as scheduled. "You absolutely have to stay," she told him by telephone, adding after the call, "And he better put in the performance of his life." His sister Maya arrived in China on Thursday afternoon and the two met at a Beijing hotel where Maya will be staying. Mandel, who will race the 200 meters butterfly on Monday, spoke of hearing the sad news: "Initially I thought that I was being awakened for a surprise drug test. I couldn't imagine any other reason to wake me. "My mother told me of the accident and it was a severe shock," he said. "I went for a walk outside with the two of the national coaches and took a sleeping pill. I managed to sleep another three hours, but the sleep didn't take away the pain I am dealing with now." The news quickly spread through the Israeli delegation and the Olympics took backstage for a few hours. The OCI decided, however, that there would be no changes made to the delegation's schedule for Thursday, and by the afternoon the athletes were back into the rhythm of things. OCI General Secretary Efraim Zinger said that the entire delegation's preparations for the Games would continue as usual, but Israel Swimming Association chairman Noam Tzvi admitted that it wouldn't be easy for the athletes. "The swimmers are a very tight-knit group and have trained together intensively over the last two years," Zinger said. "In the last month they were together all the time and they are very attached to each other. "Half of the team will already begin to compete on Saturday. We will do our very best to make sure they are focused for the competition, but obviously it's a very difficult situation." Mandel, who trains year round at the University of Michigan, only qualified for the Olympics after a long saga in which his father played an important supportive role. The butterfly specialist thought he had missed out on the Games after finishing the 200m. butterfly race at March's European Championships in 13th position, one spot below the required 12th place. His Israeli record time was just two-hundredths of a second slower than what was needed to meet the criteria, but a month ago it was confirmed that European gold medalist Ioannis Drymonakos had been punished for testing positive in a drug test and Mandel was added to the delegation. "My mother and father were ideal parents and I'm only here thanks to them," Mandel said. "I would very much like to return home, but my heart tells me to stay."