After Olympic disappointment, Meet Israel's Paralympic medal hopes

Some were wounded in combat, others in accidents. Before the Paralympics have even started, they have been hailed as heroes

By Jennifer Lipman, August 17, 2012
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and  Sports Minister Limor Livnat with Israel’s Paralympic squad

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sports Minister Limor Livnat with Israel’s Paralympic squad

After its worst performance at the Olympic Games since Barcelona in 1992, Israel's sporting fortunes are expected to improve as its Paralympians attempt to match the six medals they took home from Beijing.

With Israelis still reeling from failing to win a single medal at the Olympics - Israel's Culture and Sports Minister, Limor Livnat, has announced an inquiry into what went wrong - all eyes are on the 25 men and women who will be competing in nine Paralympic sports, including sailing, hand-cycling and wheelchair tennis, when the games begin on 29th August.

Ron Bolotin, a former Paralympic swimmer and now the secretary-general of the Israel Paralympic Committee, said enthusiasm was growing. He was reluctant to offer a specific medal target. "But we have high expectations and we have a good team," he said.

"We hope at least to get the same result as four years ago - and maybe a little bit more."

Israel has won over 300 medals in the Paralympics, which began in London 64 years ago, inspired by a German Jewish refugee, Dr Ludwig Guttmann.

"We were one of the best teams during the 1970s and 1980s," said Mr Bolotin. "Israel was one of the pioneer nations so we had a beginner's advantage. Secondly, because we have a lot of army disabled, we have very high quality sport facilities for rehabilitation."

But he admitted the competition was getting tougher, with more money invested in Paralympic sports by other countries, and with more Paralympians training from childhood.

Half of those competing for Israel this year rebuilt their lives after being injured during their army service, including shooter Doron Shazir, whose leg was amputated after he stepped on a landmine in Lebanon, and sailor Arnon Efrati, who lost his arm during the Yom Kippur War.

"I hope this is a chance to say Israel can win some medals," said Daphna Harrari, general manager of Etgarim, a charity which organises extreme sports for Israel's disabled. "The whole country is waiting."

At a reception this week to honour the Paralympians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of his awe at the "incredible thing you are doing" and pledged that the competition would be shown on Israeli TV.

"What you demand of yourselves, nobody demands of you," he said.

"I hope that you bring home medals - but from my point of view, you already have."

Last updated: 12:53pm, August 17 2012