Russia’s Israeli head coach David Blatt had good cause to celebrate his team’s victory.
Russia’s Israeli head coach David Blatt had good cause to celebrate his team’s victory. Photo by Reuters
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One Israeli will be returning from London with an Olympic medal. Okay - maybe it's not actually a medal for Israel, but still, it's home will be here.

The medal in question is a bronze, belonging to David Blatt, the American-born Israeli coach of the Russian basketball team that beat Argentina 81-77 in a thrilling third-place playoff Sunday morning.

As the game ended, a visibly emotional Blatt jumped excitedly on the spot, then hugged all the Russian players and technical staff. "How sweet it is," Blatt was quoted by Reuters.

"This is a very proud moment for me," he told Haaretz. "I am a product of Israeli sport. I wholeheartedly offer this medal to everyone. As a child I used to watch American athletes on the podium and wanted to be one of them."

Blatt was full of praise for his charges: "We have a team that knows how to play good basketball. [Alexey] Shved is a wonderful player - he reminds me of Oded Kattash."

Real achievements

Boston-born Blatt played college basketball at Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and participated in the 1981 Maccabiah as part of the U.S. team that won a gold medal. After that he decided to abandon his American career and play basketball in Israel. During 12 years as a professional, he played for a string of leading Israeli teams, before launching what has become a stellar coaching career in 1993.

Blatt, who is also the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, has coached a string of Israeli and European teams and the Israeli national team, becoming one of Europe's most successful and respected coaches.

Speculation regarding Blatt's future is rife, with some observers expecting the overworked coach to take a break from his international duties to concentrate on Maccabi Tel Aviv.

"I hope David stays, but he knows what he's doing," said Russian team veteran forward and team leader Andrei Kirilenko. "We've reached some real achievements under him, and the results speak for themselves."