Swimming / Just in time, Israeli squad finally reaches Dubai
Officials of the emirate refused to issue the Israelis visas until the last minute, and only allowed them in without stamping their passports and making them undergo stringent security checks.
After a month of uncertainty, Israel's national swim team arrived early yesterday morning in Dubai ahead of the World Short Course Championships, which open today.
The Israeli delegation went through hell and high water to get to Dubai. Officials of the emirate refused to issue the Israelis visas until the last minute, and only allowed them in without stamping their passports and making them undergo stringent security checks. "It seems they feared we would bring in something special, but everything went quietly," said Noam Zvi, chairman of the Israeli Swimming Federation.
Alex Giladi, Israel's representative on the International Olympic Committee, arrived to wield his influence to make sure the Israeli flag would fly in the complex's hall and there would be no hitches with registration.
Four Israelis will take to the pool today. Guy Barnea and Jonathan Koplev in the 100-meter backstroke, their strong card, Gal Nevo in the 200-meter freestyle and Alon Mandel in the 100-meter butterfly.
Amit Ivry withdrew from other heats to focus on the butterfly, which her best discipline, where she hopes to reach the final. Leonid Kaufman, the national coach, concures. "We have goals," he said yesterday. "That all the swimmers set personal bests and that they advance at least to the next stage. The second goal depends on the ability of the other swimmers in the championship. We expect Ivry and Nevo to reach the finals. They're capable of it."
Some 800 athletes from 137 countries have gathered at the $100 million Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Sports Complex, which can accommodate 15,000 spectators. "Dubai and the Gulf States want to prove they can do the biggest things," said Kaufman. "They built the tallest tower and the biggest Disney World, and now a swimming complex that competes with all others. I was in China, and this is no less than the Olympic complex."