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July in Hadar Yosef, August in Beijing - that was the plan. Two years ago it worked beautifully. Niki Palli set a high jump youth world record of 2.30 meters in the national championships, and a month later placed second at the World Youth Championships in the Chinese capital. Everything went his way, and Israel seemed to have a golden egg.

But two years are an eternity, and Palli has had his ups and downs, to the point where he needed to clear 2.27 meters yesterday to qualify for the Olympics. He had originally needed to jump 2.30 meters, but the bar was lowered to the youth criterion. Cautiously optimistic before yesterday's meet, he only got as far as 2.17 meters before failing at 2.21 meters three times. In short, he wasn't even close. The great hope of Israeli athletics just two years ago couldn't reach his potential.

Theoretically, Palli's coach could organize an invitational event in Haifa, Palli's hometown, before the July 20 deadline, but the Israel Olympic Committee closed the door yesterday. The decision was to give Palli one last chance to meet the criterion for young adults, and according to the head of the Competitive Sports Unit Gili Lustig, the national championships provided his last chance.

After he failed, Palli complained of the poor conditions at Hadar Yosef and said, "I want to do it in Haifa, my home." But regardless of last night's failure, he and his coach remain optimistic. "I am only 21 years old, I have a lot of years ahead of me," he commented last night. "There's the world championships next year."

Rami Hipsh adds: The Israeli Championships witnessed a lone record set yesterday. Yevgenya Zavolatoni won the gold medal in the women's hammer with a throw of 52.02 meters, beating the old record by 90 centimeters. The distance was better than the next two throws combined. The achievement is even more impressive considering that Zavolatoni gave birth just nine months ago and took a five-month maternity leave. "I had it easy today, but it was hard when I returned from the birth," she said yesterday. "I knew I could improve on the record, and that's not the end .... I don't put boundaries upon myself."