Israeli stars hope to shine in Beijing
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With less than five months until the Beijing Games, the Israeli squad taking shape will struggle to equal the haul of two medals — one gold and one bronze — won in Athens in 2004.
Some 25 competitors have met the criteria set by the Israel Olympic Committee, with the squad for China expected to reach 40.
Windsurfer Gal Friedman, who became Israel’s first gold medalist in 2004 — adding to the bronze he won in Atlanta in 1996 — will not be in the travelling squad.
With only one competitor permitted from each country, he has been ousted by Shahar Tzuberi, who took bronze at the recent World Championships in New Zealand.
But at 21, Tzuberi is an inexperienced talent and it is questionable whether or not he will be able to put in a medal- winning performance.
Three of the six medals Israel has won in Olympic competitions have been in water sports. In addition to Friedman’s two medals, Michael Kelganov took bronze in kayaking in Sydney 2000. Israel’s best chance of gold this time will also be off dry land.
Udi Gal and Gidi Kliger are perhaps the strongest medal contenders in general and gold in particular. The pair have won the bronze medal in each of the past three World 470 Class Sailing Championships and on the last occasion in Australia in January they were in gold medal contention up until the last race.
The nation’s other three Olympic medals have come in judo — Yael Arad (silver) and Oren Smadja (bronze) in Barcelona 1992 and Arik Zeevi (bronze) in Athens. Israel’s chances of claiming a judo medal in the Far East appear slim with Zeevi struggling to regain form after surgery to his shoulder in 2005.
Gal Yekutieli, who won the bronze in last year’s European Championships, could be an outside bet for a medal.
Tennis offers the best potential for Israel to win its first non-judo or water sports medal. By winning the Australian Open men’s doubles title, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich demonstrated that they are strong medal prospects but the Israelis will have to shrug off their inconsistent form on the big occasions.
Shahar Peer, ranked 18 in the world, must be deemed medal potential. But she has only reached the semi-finals of a major competition once and will have to undergo a dramatic improvement in form to win a medal. Likewise, it is hard to envisage Dudi Sela, ranked 64, on the podium in the men’s singles event.
Pole vaulter Alex Averbukh
Track and field hopes rest with veteran pole vaulter Alex Averbukh. An Olympic medal has eluded the 33-year-old Russian-born athlete who has won bronze and silver medals in World Championships and twice taken gold in the European Championships. Averbukh showed that in finishing seventh in last year’s World Championships he is still in the frame for what will surely be his last shot at Olympic glory.
Niki Palli, Israel’s 20-year-old high jump hope, is struggling to realise the potential he showed in finishing seventh in the European Championships two years ago. Yet to achieve the Olympic standard, he is weighed down by personal problems after being accused of negligent driving in a crash in which someone died.
Other prospects include gymnasts Alex Shatilov, fifth in the World Championships, and Irina Reisenson, seventh in the World Championships, as well as the women’s rhythmic gymnastics team which finished sixth in the World Championships.