Israel is investing £8 million on an Olympics squad that will make the 2012 Games the country’s best-ever, pledges the man who will make it happen.
Efraim Zinger, the Secretary-General of the Olympic Committee of Israel says he hopes to take at least 40 athletes to London.
Zinger believes that the nation’s best hopes of silverware will come in judo, wind-surfing and gymnastics.
“Everyone in Israel will know the qualification criteria by January 2011,” he said. “Medals are the most important aspect as any medallists will reflect Israeli society at its best. We want to keep our place in the prestigious place of countries that win medals. Hopefully, London will be our sixth in a row.”
Windsurfer Shahar Zubari claimed Israel’s only medal at the last Olympics in Beijing. Now Zinger has set his target on more success. “Fifty per cent of our athletes were female in Athens and Beijing so it’s about time a female athlete brought a medal home.
“We have a number of good athletes that have won European and world championships. We have a great hope in gymnastics where we have an outstanding young athlete in Alex Shalitov who reached the finals in Beijing.
Zinger also describes high-jumper Dmitri Kroytor as one to watch. “He’s competing at the summer youth Olympic Games so we’ll see if there’s a chance.”
With mixed doubles tennis confirmed at an Olympics for the first time, Zinger said that the pairing of Andy Ram and Shahar Peer “will be an interesting proposition”.
Looking back at Beijing, when there was major uproar in Israel after tennis star Dudi Sela did not make the
squad, Zinger said: “He didn’t satisfy our qualification requirements. We set the athletes targets and it’s up to them to see who satisfies them, not vice versa. We set these two years in advance so everyone knows what they have to do.”
Zubari’s involvement in London is uncertain due to Nimrod Mashiah, the new kid on the block. Mashiah is coached by Gal Fridman, Israel’s only Olympic gold medallist.
Zinger believes that the route to success was set up several years ago: “Since 1992, we have had a very specific qualification process and every year since, we’ve come home with medals. We are going to the Olympics to win, not just to participate.
“The Olympics are very important to Israel. London has special meaning to us for several reasons: it will be broadcast on prime time television, it is not far from Israel so we can expect many people to come and support us and, thirdly, there is a significant and strong Jewish support here. We hope to give people a once-in-a-lifetime experience as the Olympics is the greatest event the world of sport has to offer. In the next two and a half years, all Israeli athletes will come to London to train or compete.
“London’s Jewish community has a big part to play and it will be great to see our supporters giving the athletes the feeling that they’re playing on their home ground. We want them to feel part of us and we will be looking for volunteers as there will be a special opportunity to work with the delegation as a runner. ”
Zinger is confident the Israel squad will have no extra security concerns. We have full confidence that the authorities will do everything to create a safe environment for all Olympic delegations. They have the know-how and we trust them.”
On a whistlestop tour to London this week, Zinger said that discussing a Munich tribute was high on the agenda for his meeting with Lord Coe.
“It is one of the most important tasks of the OCI. Part of the preparation for the squad is to know and learn to identify with the tragedy.
“On the way to the Games, all our athletes will go to Munich and visit the tribute and meet the widows of those murdered.”
He said that after windsurfer Gal Fridman won gold in Athens, “he felt that the Munich 11 were with him”.
Looking ahead to next month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Zinger said: “For Israel, the Winter Olympics is more about participation and involvement.” Israel hopes to have skier Michael Renzhin and the figure-skating brother and sister team of Roman and Alexander Zaretsky representing them.