Thursday afternoon Nimrod Mashiah had the race of his life. The promising windsurfer dreamed of winning his first medal in senior competition (non-youth, that is - he's only 21), but his plans were nearly thwarted shortly after the starting whistle for the final race of the RS:X World Championships in the English port town of Weymouth.
Mashiah collided with the windsurf board of British leader Nick Dempsey, and just as Shahar Zubari did in the crucial final race at the Beijing Olympics, decided to penalize himself, lest he be disqualified by the judges.
Mashiah's races until yesterday put him in prime position for a medal. On Wednesday he came in second and third in the day's two races, and started yesterday's final leg just six points behind Dempsey.
Mashiah returned to the starting point and began the race from scratch, then fought to bounce back from his disadvantaged position. He came up behind Dorian van Rijsselberge, ranked third before the race, making life difficult for the Dutchman, who had he won the final leg, would have stolen the silver from the Israeli.
Mashiah finished the race in seventh, and his previous performances were strong enough to land him in second place in the world.
"Nimrod regained his composure fast, and was able to pull forward with amazing concentration," Gal Fridman, Mashiah's coach and a two-time Olympic medalist, said.
"I still can't believe what I just did," a shaken-up Mashiah said after the race. "Slowly it'll start to sink in, and when I get to Israel and meet up with the people close to me, it'll all become clear."
The previous personal best for the young windsurfer from moshav Mikhmoret, near Netanya, came in June, when he finished 10th in the RS:X European Championships in Tel Aviv.
"In the last European Championships I noticed a few things - not necessarily weak winds - which kept Nimrod from winning," Fridman said. "They were definitely not easy things to work on. I'm amazed at how he was able to internalize them and make changes in such a short time," he said of Mashiah.
Zubari, who won the bronze - Israel's only medal - in last summer's Beijing Olympics and took gold at the European Championships in Tel Aviv, finished a disappointing 13th. A berth in the 2012 Olympiad now seems less than assured for the 23-year-old Eilat native.
Only one Israeli windsurfer is likely to represent Israel four years from now in London, but Israel Yachting Association chair Yehuda Ma'ayan said yesterday he's anything but worried. "I'm not even thinking about that at the moment," he said. "In 2010 there's another World Championships, and I want us to win the gold."
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