Israel's selected bowls teams, men and women, have reached the shores of South Africa and are standing by for the start of the Atlantic Games on Sunday. The tournament will continue until May 16 at the famed Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.
Some nail-biting might be evident as the Israelis face the critical challenge of qualifying for a place in the final line-ups for the next World Bowls championships in 2012 in Australia.
The World Championships for both men and women take place every four years, and of the 46 bowling nations affiliated to the sport's ruling body (Word Bowls Ltd.), only 24 compete in the tournament. Twelve of these qualify automatically, having filled the top 12 overall log slots in the previously held World Championships, in 2008 in New Zealand.
The remaining 12 slots are determined by preliminary qualifying contests in three geographically zoned areas, viz. players bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, players from the Asian and Pacific zones, and players from African states. Israel, although somewhat remote from the Atlantic Ocean, was invited in the early years as a credit then to its international rating.
The biennial Atlantic Rim Games started off in 1993, originally solely for women bowlers, and it was only in the previous 2007 games that men were brought in for the first time, with the tournament then introduced as a major qualifying event for participation in the quadrennial World Championships.
Israel's men and women teams were usually among the top 12 since the 1980s, but failed to make the cut for the last World Championships and now have to challenge for inclusion in the next championships in 2012.
Israel's women are grouped among 14 Atlantic Rim nations, among whom England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Canada, South Africa and Namibia have pre-qualified. Four more slots are up for the taking, where Israel will be together with the non-qualifiers: Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, U.S. and Cyprus.
Challenging for Israel will be Kiryat Ono's Ruthie Gilor, Haifa's Irit Grencel and Ramat Gan's trio Tami Kamzel, Edna Zomberg and Tzila Gavish.
In the previous 2007 Atlantic Tournament, Israel recorded its best-ever results, finishing third of 13 nations. Gilor then won the Silver in the singles, and the Bronze in the pairs with Grencel, and the two will again be repeating these roles.
In the 2005 tournament Kamzel skipped her trio to the Silver in the triples, and this time she has her club-mates Zomberg and Gavish in the triples, joined by Grencel in the fours.
Managing the team is Ramat Hasharon's experienced and well-seasoned Yaffa Lavin, and the Israeli "girls" should feel optimistic about their prospects.
Israel's men are grouped with 16 nations, among whom Canada, Namibia, South Africa, England, Scotland and Ireland have pre-qualified. Five additional slots have been allocated for the 10 non-qualifiers: Israel, Wales, Jersey, U.S., Spain, Guernsey, Netherlands, Cyprus, Portugal and Brazil.
The Israeli men's debut in the 2007 Atlantic Games was not a successful one, followed by their not having made the cut in the 2008 World Championships.
The new-look team now faces the challenge, with Ramat Gan's youthful Yair Bekier given the responsible task of skipping for Ra'anana's Colin Silberstein and Savyon's Haviv Takin in the triples, and with Ra'anana's Alan Saitowitz added to the fours.
For Bekier it is a welcome return after an extended lay-off, having way back in 1998, already as a 21-year-old, earned his international cap having won Israel's novices in 1991.
Boaz Marcus, also among Israel's younger players and a novices winner in 1994, has the prestigious task of playing in the singles and skipping the pairs with Saitowitz, who was Israel's national singles champion in 2007 and will be earning his first international cap.
Completing the line-up are Silberstein and Takin, more experienced international players maintaining their international status. Managing the team is Haifa's Chaim Shefer who represented Israel in the 2000 World Championships.
For the first time, a professional overseas coach, Howard Sandler of New Zealand, has been appointed, and his training program has been keenly adopted by the Israeli squads.
Final overall log positions will be determined by the total combined points earned in the four disciplines. The bowls start rolling on Sunday with the women's triples against South Africa, and the pairs against the Netherlands.
The men's triples face Portugal, and the men are against Jersey in the pairs. Following the pairs and triples, the tournament will conclude with the singles and the fours.
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