Israel at the Sydney Olympics 2000
Expectations have changed dramatically since Israel first competed in the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952. Then, the most notable achievement was by Yoav Ra'anan, who took ninth place in springboard diving. Over the next four decades, participating was the main objective.
The darkest hour of the Olympics was in 1972, when eleven members of the Israeli delegation were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Munich. The Games resumed after a 24-hour hiatus, but the surviving members of the Israeli delegation accompanied their fellow sportsmen on their final journey home.
Despite the tragedy in Munich, Israel remained loyal to the Olympic ideal, and returned to the 1976 Games in Montreal, where Esther Roth-Shachamarov, whose coach Amitsur Shapira had been slain in Munich, clinched an historic sixth place in the 100 meters hurdles –the best Israeli Olympic track result to date.
As more years passed, the belief that an Israeli athlete could win an Olympic medal became credible. In Seoul in 1988, Israel's Flying Dutchmen crew, Yoel Sela and Eldad Amir, achieved a laudable fourth place finish, despite forfeiting a race held on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
By the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, hopes hinged on judoka Yael Arad. She did not disappoint; Arad became Israel's first medal winner (silver), to be followed the next day by Oren Smadja, also in judo, who won a bronze. In 1996, Gal Friedman maintained the momentum, bringing home a bronze medal from Atlanta, this time in the mistral windsurfing competition.
In team sports, Israel has not fared quite so well. At Helsinki, in its one and only appearance, the basketball team was eliminated at the preliminary stage. Israel's soccer team advanced to the quarterfinals in Mexico (1968), but its fate was decided by the toss of a coin when Bulgaria, having the same record as Israel in points and goals, emerged as the luckier team. Eight years later, in Montreal, the soccer team made it to the quarterfinals once more, but could get no further.
Israel now boasts a solid presence, with unprecedented performances in the international arena. For Sydney, the delegation will be the largest and strongest ever, with several potential medal contenders. This time, Israel is going for gold.
Massacre in Munich: 1972
The most notorious episode in Olympic history began early in the morning on September 5th, 1972, during the Munich Olympics in then West Germany. Gunmen from the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September murdered two Israeli athletes and took nine others hostage. They demanded the release of 200 Arab terrorists held in Israel, and safe passage for themselves and their hostages out of Germany.
The Tunisian Ambassador and representatives of the Arab League tried to help the Germans negotiate with the terrorists. Israel refused to release any terrorists and at one point two West German ministers offered to replace the hostages. But all attempts failed. After more than 12 hours in the Olympic Village, the terrorists agreed to leave the compound and were taken, together with their hostages, by helicopter to a military airport. As the Palestinians walked handcuffed to their hostages across the tarmac to a waiting aircraft, German snipers attempted to pick off the terrorists. The entire operation backfired and the terrorists were able to shoot their hostages in cold blood. A second group of hostages died when a German grenade was inadvertently thrown into the helicopter where they were still waiting. When it was over, all nine hostages were dead (in addition to the two sportsmen murdered earlier) and five of the eight Palestinian terrorists had been killed.
Though world reaction was one of shock and disbelief, the Olympic Games were resumed only 24 hours later, after a memorial service for the murdered Israeli athletes. The surviving Israeli delegates returned home immediately. No other national delegation joined Israel's call to halt the Games completely; however, five individual sportsmen from other countries left the Games in a show of solidarity.
At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 Yael Arad, who finished second in her judo event, dedicated Israel's first-ever medal to the memory of the Israelis slain in Munich. The Olympic movement did not officially recall the Munich tragedy until a minute's silence for all victims of terrorism at the Games was held after the Atlanta Games in 1996. In March 2000, Arthur Cohn and Kevin Macdonald were awarded the Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature category for their film "One Day in September," which tells the story of the Munich massacre. "I was a bit of a sports fan and I had this strong feeling that it was a huge event, a terrible tragedy that people knew nothing about," recalled Cohn.
On October 15th, 1999, a memorial to the eleven slain Israeli athletes was dedicated in the Olympic Plaza at Homebush Bay, Sydney. The Plaza is illuminated by nineteen 30-meter high lighting towers, each named after a city that has hosted the Summer Olympics. The first permanent structure in honor of the athletes to be erected in an official Olympic venue outside Munich, the memorial is integrated into Tower 14, the tower named for Munich. It comprises two perpendicular sheets of stainless steel and blue glass, with the names of the eleven Israelis inscribed in English and Hebrew.
In addition, the following is inscribed:
Unveiling the memorial, New South Wales Chief Justice Jim Spigelman said: "The tragedy of Munich was a direct onslaught on the Olympic values of internationalism, inclusiveness and respect for diversity. Nothing could have been more inconsistent with these principles than the terrible crimes committed in Munich. The action of the terrorists was the antithesis of the Olympic spirit… This memorial will stand dedicated not only to the individuals who died, but also to the values which the Olympic ideals embody."
The Israeli Medalists
Yael Arad made history in 1992 when at the age of 25 she won the silver medal in the women's under 61 kilogram judo competition, becoming the first Israeli to stand on the Olympic medal podium. In 1993, Arad won the gold medal at the European Championships and the silver medal at the World Championships. In the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 she finished fifth before retiring.
Oren Smadja took the bronze medal in Barcelona less than 24 hours after Arad's achievement. Smadja, aged 22, won third place in the men's under 71 kilogram judo competition. Moving up a weight to the under 78 kilogram he won the silver medal at the World Championships in 1995, but sustained an injury in a first round victory at the Atlanta Olympics which resulted in defeat in the following round. Smadja retired in 1999.
Gal Friedman won the bronze medal in the Mistral class of windsurfing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, at the age of 21. He had won the silver medal twice at previous European Championships.
The Delegation to the XXVII Olympic Games
There is little similarity between the athletes in the first Israeli Olympic delegation at the Helsinki Games in 1952 and the delegation which will compete in Sydney; this year the athletes form a team of first-rate sportspeople, honed to perform and driven to achieve. The 40-strong delegation comprises the country's best athletes with an unprecedented history of medals in international competition. Given Israel's relatively low sports budget [$80 million], their results are even more meritorious.
Two factors are largely responsible for the invigorated squad. First, the enormous wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union over the past decade has brought athletes and coaches whose expertise and stringent training schedules has injected new life into Israeli sport. Second, the emphasis placed on the ruthless selection process succeeded in exposing exactly which talent was worthy of further nurturing. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union make up a third of the squad, and athletes like Michael Kalganov (kayaking) and Alex Averbach (pole vault) are the leading contenders to alight the top rung of the medal podium.
Gilad Lustig, director of the Elite Sport Unit, the division set up in 1984 to oversee the selection of athletes for the Olympics, believes that this year the number of Israeli finalists will at least double the three in Atlanta in 1996.
Naturally, competition among the 10,200 international athletes will be fierce, and a mere fraction of a second or a few centimeters will determine a result. But at the Sydney Games, Israel's athletes will arrive with a level of readiness and motivation unprecedented in the Israeli sports arena.
Ayelet Ohayon, 26, Foil
Michael Beilin, 24, 63kg
Cotcha Tsitsiashvili, 26,
Yuri Yevseichik, 27,
Orit Bar-On, 24, Women's
Gil Ofer, 24, 73kg
Arik Zeevi, 23, 100kg
Michael Kalganov, 25,
Kayak K1 500m and K1 1000m
Ro'i Yellin, 19, Kayak K2
500m and K2 1000m (with Rami Tsur)
Rami Tsur, 23, Kayak K2
500m and K2 1000m (with Ro'i Yellin)
Lior Carmi, 24, Kayak K2
200m and K2 500m (with Larissa
Pesakhovich) and K1 1000m
Carmi finished 5th in the K1 1000m and 6th in the K1 500m, K2 200m and K2 500m races at the 1999 European Championships. At the 1996 Olympics, she reached the semifinals of the K1 500m event. She placed 6th in the K2 500m race in the European Kayaking Championships in Poland in July 2000.
Larissa Pesakhovich, 27,
Kayak K2 200m and K2 500m (with Lior
Or Tokayev, 20, Rhythmic
Shani Kedmi, 23, and Anat
Fabrikant, 24, Women's Double-Handed Dinghy 470
Eli Zuckerman, 27, and
Elad Ronen, 24, Men's Double-Handed Dinghy 470
Amit Inbar, 28,
Windsurfing Mistral Class
Michal Hein, 32,
Windsurfing Mistral Class (women)
Alexander Danilov, 30,
Guy Starek, 35, Free
Vered Borochovsky, 16,
100m Butterfly, 200m Individual Medley
Adi Bichman, 17, 800m
Freestyle, 400m Individual Medley
Yoav Gat, 19, 200m
Yoav Bruck, 28, 50m and
100m Freestyle, 4x100m Freestyle, 4x100m Medley
Eytan Urbach, 23, 100m
Backstroke, 4x100m Freestyle, 4x100m Medley
Mickey Halika, 21, 200m
and 400m Individual Medley
Tal Stricker, 21, 100m
and 200m Breaststroke, 4x100m medley
Yoav Meiri, 25, 100m and
200m butterfly, 4x100m Medley
Oren Azrad, 21, and Alexei Manziola, 20, 4x100m Freestyle
TRACK AND FIELD
Alex Averbach, 25, Pole
Danny Krasnov, 30, Pole
29, High Jump
Rogel Nahum, 33, Triple
Tommy Kafri, 23, 100m,
Alex Porkhomovsky, 28,
100m, 4x100m Relay
Kfir Golan, 26, 4x100m
Gidon Yablonka, 22, 200m,
Mickey Bar Yehoshua, 29,
Israel at the Paralympics
In 1950, the Stoke Mandeville hospital in England, which specializes in spinal injuries, held the first international disabled sports competition. In the years that followed, disabled sports became a primary means of rehabilitation for polio victims, a therapy adopted by ILAN, an Israeli organization for the disabled. In 1953, the first Israeli delegation of disabled athletes competed in the Stoke Mandeville Games.
In 1960, Rome hosted the first Paralympic Games. Israeli athletes brought home 8 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 18 bronze medals. Israel next participated in the Paralympics in 1968. They had been scheduled to take place in Mexico, but when organizational difficulties arose, Israel stepped in and hosted the Games. Over 800 disabled athletes competed, and the delegation won 61 medals. Israel also won the 1968 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships, in both the men's and women's categories.
Israeli disabled athletes once again showed their prowess by gaining 20 medals at the 1972 Paralympic Games in Germany. The men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams were also successful, taking second and third places, respectively, in the World Championships that year.
In 1976, Canada hosted the first Paralympics in which both amputees and blind athletes competed along with paraplegics. The Israel delegation secured 14 gold, 27 silver, and 8 bronze medals. In the World Championships of the same year, Israel's disabled volleyball team took first place, the wheelchair basketball team took second place, and the blind goalball team took third place in their respective competitions.
Israel maintained its high profile at the 1980 Paralympics in Holland, where its sportsmen and sportswomen earned 45 medals, and the wheelchair basketball and volleyball teams both took first place in the World Championships.
The Paralympic Games were split between two venues in 1984; in Stoke Mandeville, England, and in Long Island, USA. Israel sent teams to both places, winning a total of 26 medals. The next two cities to host the Games were Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. By this time, the level of achievement was rapidly improving worldwide, and competition was fierce. Nevertheless, Israel succeeded in obtaining 14 and 12 medals respectively. Atlanta, Georgia brought the level of professional accomplishment in the field of disabled sports to new heights in 1996, and nine medals were secured by the Israeli delegation.
Altogether, more than 4000 athletes, 2000 staff, and 10,000 volunteers from 125 countries are expected in Sydney, 18-29 October 2000, in what is expected to be the largest Paralympic Games to date. The Israel delegation includes 35 athletes. Preparations have included participation in international and national competitions and the government has contributed substantial funding for its delegation to the Games. To maintain its place of honor among the highest achieving countries in the world, the athletes have received professional consultation from the experts who prepare the able-bodied teams for the Olympic Games.
The Israel Sports Association for the Disabled (ISAD) conducts a wide range of all-year-round activities in disabled sports, including basketball, tennis, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, shooting, riding, archery, swimming, blind goalball, and sailing.
For further information, please contact:
The Olympic Committee of
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry