Team Israel is primed and ready

Five of Israel's representatives will be competing in the first day of the Olympic Games on Saturday.

peres olympics 224.88 (photo credit: Allon Sinai)
peres olympics 224.88
(photo credit: Allon Sinai)
The wait is finally over. The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics began Friday night and five of Israel's representatives will be competing in the first day of the Games on Saturday. President Shimon Peres visited the delegation in the Olympic Village on Thursday and helped raise the spirits, which were dampened earlier in the day by the tragic news of the passing of the father of swimmer Alon Mandel. Judoka Gal Yekutiel will be the first Israeli to take part in the Games, facing Athens 2004 bronze medalist Tsagaanbaatar Hashbaatar of Mongolia on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the under-60kg event at the University of Science and Technology Gymnasium. A little later in the day, gymnast Alex Shatilov will compete at the National Indoor Stadium, while Gal Nevo, Anya Gostomelsky and Tom Be'eri will swim for the first time in the evening at the National Aquatics Center. The five Israelis getting the Games under way for the delegation on Saturday shied away from the media on Thursday, but the outspoken sailor Udi Gal, who almost missed the Olympics after failing a drug test because of a balding medication, was more than happy to speak of his feelings ahead of the big day. Israel's sailors are preparing to take to the sea in Qingdao, with six of them beginning their competitions on Sunday. "For the first time in my 21 years of sailing I can say that I am ready," said Gal, who will be racing in the 470 Class sailing competition with partner Gidi Kliger. "We will hold two more short training sessions in the next couple of days and then all that is left is to perform at the highest level for a week," he commented sarcastically. Gal won't be at the opening ceremony, as the traveling back and forth to Beijing would waste valuable time, and for the same reason he also missed out on the chance to meet Peres. Despite only landing a couple of hours earlier on an overnight flight from Tel Aviv, Peres seemed genuinely happy to meet the athletes, who all came with their cameras to document the moment. "We are competing against giant countries with thousands of professional athletes, but I believe in you and I'm certain you will succeed," Peres told the delegation. "You're young, talented and your efforts deserve success. The people of Israel are following you closely." Peres, who sent his condolences to the Mandel family, checked with the athletes if they're being taken care of by the Chinese and spoke of his fundamental belief in Israelis. "In every aspect of life Israelis have started from nothing and have reached the very top," he said. "They did so in agriculture, in cinema and I believe they will do so in sport as well. You are role models to Israel's youth and I'm proud that you're representing the country." David Blatt, who is coaching the Russian basketball team at the Games, attended the gathering wearing an Israeli delegation shirt. Synchronized swimmer Anastasia Gloushkov expressed what seemed to be on the mind of everybody in the room as Peres prepared to leave the village. "Meeting you warms our hearts, and the support we have gotten from you and the entire people of Israel both excites and strengthens us," she said.