The 13th FINA World Championships came to a close last night in Rome, and despite Gal Nevo's Israeli record-setting 400-meter medley performance, the Israeli delegation had little to gloat about.
Fifteen swimmers represented Israel at the competition - a bloated delegation according to its critics, and they may have been right. Only Nevo turned in a stellar performance; a handful of his teammates registered personal and even national records, but even those times weren't enough in most cases to crack the top ten. The rest simply disappointed. Maybe they were never meant to be in Rome, and they knew it.
Ehud Segal's Facebook page is instructive. His last status message until today, posted last Thursday, read in Hebrew: "On the way to Rome, the championship of the universe!" This afternoon, on his mobile phone, he posted in English, "I guess my talent decided to leave me."
In the first World Championships since last year's Beijing Olympics, it was Nevo who carried Israel's dim torch, clocking in at the wholly respectable time of 4:11.51, even if it was in a preliminary heat. Nevo's performance allowed national team coach Leonid Kaufman to return home with his head held high. Sort of.
"The swimmers did alright," he said cautiously. "And we must not forget that this is a young team. Maybe there were no outstanding achievements here, but there weren't any failures either."
But when Segal's name came up, Kaufman's tone turned less diplomatic - the swimmer's result was a full six seconds slower than his personal best. "It's true, he wasn't in shape," the coach said bluntly. "He shouldn't have been here."
Despite the lukewarm results, Kaufman believes Israel can be optimistic about its future. "The World Championships are usually remembered by the way they end, and we had a good ending," he said. "We have two years until the next World Championships in Shanghai to move forward."
Back to Israel's single cause for celebration: Nevo. Following his record-breaking preliminary performance, he came in sixth in the final, the best result ever recorded by an Israeli at the Worlds. "It's also my personal record," said the ecstatic swimmer afterwards. "My goal was to get to the final of the 400-meter medley, after coming in 11th at the Olympics."
"I prepared differently from the others. Since May I've been with Leonid non-stop preparing for the Worlds, while the other swimmers were using their own training programs," Nevo said.
Noam Zvi, chairman of the Israel Swimming Association, struggled to put a happy face on a glum showing. "I'm happy with the results overall," he said. His choice of words, however, hinted that he, too, recognized this year's performance simply wasn't good enough.
"Next time we'll be ready," he said.
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