The Last Word: Pride in Pe'er and Palli

The pride I had in British athletics is nothing compared to the confidence and passion of our top Israeli athletes.

Shahar peer 298.88 (photo credit: )
Shahar peer 298.88
(photo credit: )
Growing up in England was often frustrating from a sporting point of view. Not least in tennis. Each year we may have hosted one of the most respected tournaments in the world, but it just seemed impossible that we could produce a professional tennis player good enough to win Wimbledon. Every summer the BBC would tout the newest prospect and get excited about how many Brits had made it past the first round. But it wasn't long before the country's hopes were again pinned on one man. It was the annual Tim Henman show. For years Henman would get so close, sometimes getting to the semifinal. And each time the country would hold its breath as Tiger Tim would disappoint, leaving us all hoping for next year. It was somewhat depressing, to say the least. Eventually it became obvious that Henman was never going to repeat the feat of the late, great Fred Perry in 1936. The problem always appeared to be a lack of confidence as well as a lack of the necessary talent needed to win a major tournament. Moving to Israel, it seemed unlikely that I would find a tennis star to support who actually appeared to have the skill and confidence to make it all the way. But not long after I arrived in the country Shahar Pe'er burst onto the scene. Here we have an Israeli to make us proud. When not playing, she acts like a nice, sweet 19-year-old girl. But when she takes to the tennis court, she shows she has the strength, agility, commitment and confidence to beat anyone. Of course she hasn't won Wimbledon, the US, Australian or French opens yet, but her consistently impressive performances against the world's best in recent months have been something to warm the heart during the difficult times this country has been going through. On Thursday she showed her grit and determination, coming back from a set down against her doubles partner, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, to make it to the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup. Unfortunately she was beaten by another one of those super Russians in the next round. But who can't get excited by the prospect of an Israeli showing the world how good our country's sportsmen are. The same can be said on the track and field scene. Okay, so the English have generally impressed on the athletics stage. I remember cheering on Linford Christie in the 100 meters all those years ago, not forgetting the British relay teams and Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump, to name just a few. But the pride I had in British athletics is nothing compared to the emotions seen on the face of Alex Averbukh after he won the European Championships pole vault competition for a second consecutive time last week, and the pride it instills in this small nation. Another athlete who is already starting to make headlines is high jumper Niki Palli. Like Pe'er, Palli is also 19 and already making an impact on the world stage. Last week he followed up an impressive sixth-place finish in the European Athletics Championships with a silver medal at the world juniors. Let's hope this young athlete can continue his quality performances alongside athletes like Averbukh and Pe'er, and we can soon hear Hatikva being played on international TV again as we celebrate more Israeli sporting success.