Champion Swimmer Kopelev Wins Historic Gold for Israel

Guy Barnea tied two other swimmers on 25.14 seconds for bronze to join Kopelev in listening to the Israeli national anthem.

Jonatan Kopelev became the first Israeli European swimming champion ever when he won the 50-meter backstroke by blowing away the field with a time of 24.73 seconds on Thursday.

He wasn't the only Israeli on the podium in Debrecen, though. Guy Barnea tied two other swimmers on 25.14 seconds for bronze to join Kopelev in listening to the Israeli national anthem.

Barnea's appearance made for a second bit of European Championship history: Never before have two Israelis stood on the medals podium together.

"I'm speechless. The feeling is immense," said Kopelev, 20, on Thursday. "I didn't believe I'd hear 'Hatikva,' It's amazing. I've got shivers all over my body."

Despite the medals, Kopelev and Barnea have not qualified for London 2012 because the 50-meter backstroke is not an Olympic event. They will try to get to London through one of the 100-meter events.

Amit Ivri, in contrast, secured her Olympic spot earlier in the morning by finishing her 100-meter butterfly heat in 58.64 seconds. "I'm thrilled. I worked hard," she said. "My dream has been fulfilled and now I can prepare for the real mission - representing Israel with honor at the Olympics."

Ivri finished the evening semifinal in 59.01 seconds, good enough for sixth place and a spot in tonight's final. She is passing up on the 200-meter individual medley final on Friday to prepare for the butterfly final.

The Israel Swimming Association set the goal of getting three more Israelis into the London Olympic Games through the European Championships. Ivri is the first so far.