Swimming / Jaben again tests positive for drugs, forfeits Beijing ticket
American-born swimmer Max Jaben, slated to compete for Israel in this year's Olympics in Beijing, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the second time yesterday and will not participate in this year's Games.
The first positive result was discovered during a routine drug test administered two weeks ago. Jaben has denied all allegations of doping.
The Israel Swimming Association said it would take measures against the swimmer in accordance with accepted regulations among participating countries, and that Jaben would not compete in Beijing.
After the first sample returned positive, reportedly with the anabolic steroid Boldenon, the committee decided to wait until the second sample could be analyzed.
Once the banned drugs were discovered in that sample as well, the IOC decided to take the necessary punitive steps against the swimmer.
Jaben, 22, swam in college at the University of Florida, and took second in the U.S. Nationals in 2004.
In Israel in 2005, at the 17th Maccabiah Games, he won gold as part of the U.S. 200-meter freestyle relay team.
It was during and after that tournament that Jaben became acquainted with Israel and decided to make aliyah, finally moving to Israel last summer.
In March, he finished 11th in the 200-meter freestyle with what was then an Israeli record of 1:49.48 at the European Championships in Eindhoven, Holland, but his time was soon beaten by Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or.
Jaben was expected to swim in the men's 100-, 200- and 400-meter freestyle competitions.
Bar-Or, however, is also not expected to take part in the Games, as he failed to meet qualifying criteria in recent competition and only an outstanding performance in the upcoming Israeli championships will leave him eligible to swim in Beijing.
Beeri hopeful, yet realistic about odds
Swimmer Tom Beeri has been closely watching Bar-Or's attempts to qualify for Beijing, as well as those of Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela and high jumper Niki Palli.
Beeri, who will compete in the 200-meter breaststroke in Beijing, was in the exact same position four months ago.
Then, at the European Championships, he knew he had to place 12th in his competition to secure a spot on the Olympic roster.
Beeri acquitted himself superbly, capturing an Israeli record of 2:13.95. When he glanced at the leaderboard, however, he was horrified to see that he had only placed 13th. "When I finished 13th I felt a sharp pain - your dream is over, everything you've worked for your whole athletic life," he recounts.
Beeri's lifeline arrived from Gili Lustig, the head of Israel's Elite Sport Department.
"One evening I got a phone call from Lustig promising that I would go to Beijing if I were able to get a result higher than 'criteria A' in a local competition in Portugal. They say you have to bury the past, but in the 10 days before the tournament all I could think about was the error I made in Eindhoven," he says.
Beeri clocked in at 2:13.34 in Lisbon, a result placing him ninth in the European Championships and tenth in the World Championships in Melbourne, and clearing his lane to Beijing.
Beeri began swimming in his home kibbutz of Yagur, near Haifa, before moving into the youth program of Maccabi Kiryat Ono.
"In Israel, other breaststroke swimmers had ambitions of matching the records of Vadim Alexeev, who was a world-class swimmer. He was a world record-holder in the Soviet Union before immigrating to Israel and his results were outstanding. That gave me and others motivation," he says, referring to the Kazakhstan-born swimmer who held both Soviet and Israeli records and was one of the world's top competitors in the 1990s.
Beeri does not claim to be the next Alexeev, and is realistic about his chances in Beijing.
Reaching the semi-finals would be a huge achievement, reaching the finals would be almost unimaginable.
Nor does Beeri harbor illusions about returning home to accolades.
"One thing an athlete learns very quickly is that you don't win a prize for hard work," he said.
"I just hope that the public at home will know how to value its athletes."