Athens 2004 / Only an 81.8-meter Throw Away

Voices were pounding in Vadim Bavikin's head even before he took his first throw at the Israel Athletics Championship in Jerusalem two weeks ago.

Voices were pounding in Vadim Bavikin's head even before he took his first throw at the Israel Athletics Championship in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Two months earlier, he had hurled the javelin for a personal best of 81.94 meters at a competition in Spain, and was certain that having passed the Olympic minimum of 81.80, he was on his way to Athens. However, the Israel Olympic Committee ruled two years ago that javelin throwers have to meet the minimum not once, but twice, in an official competition.

Bavikin managed to shut out the voices to record a 76.12-meter initial hurl at the Jerusalem meet, however, suddenly everything erupted and the 33-year-old left the field in disgust and forfeited his next five tries.

If Bavikin could have his way, he would hurl a javelin at each and every member of the IOC. His personal best may only be 81.94, but if the committee members were standing 90 meters away, he would surely reach his mark.

Bavikin is extremely angry right now. He is angry because with three weeks remaining until the Olympics, he still does not know if he will be going to Athens, even though he achieved the Games' minimum. He is angry because it rained during three the recent tournaments in which he participated, thereby dampening his results. For Bavikin, it has been 12 years since he participated in his last Olympics, during which time he spent four years out of the sport after testing positive for steroids.

Bavikin hurled 81.84 meters at an invitation meet at Hadar Yosef on Thursday. The problem was that the meet was not an international tournament. The Elite Sports Unit decided to give Bavikin another chance, but the javelin thrower still is not happy.

"Happy? No I'm not at all happy. The chances are I won't go to another tournament before Athens," Bavikin said Monday. "How am I going to repeat that result again. They [the IOC] don't understand anything. You can't repeat the minimum three times within a few weeks, competition after competition. Maybe their precious [pole vaulter] Alex Averbuch can. It's absurd. An athlete reaches his peak a month before the Olympics and then they don't send him."

A few minutes later, Bavikin received a call from his coach, at least until two weeks ago, Amnon Gur. The next morning, Gur announced the two would resume training together. "Vadim asked me to prepare him for the IOC's smart-aleck demand that he clear the minimum for a third time," Gur said. "Because of the Olympics, there aren't any big tournaments coming up. There's a tournament in Estonia and another in Belgium. We'll get into one of them."

Offering an explanation for Bavikin's behavior at the Israeli championship, Gur said: "Vadim got into a terrible state after the first throw. The whole question of whether or not he is going to the Olympics really broke him. He accused me of having a hand in the IOC's decisions. He was really paranoid."

Things weren't always so tough for Bavikin. He used to have great potential. At 14, he was sent to a boarding school for talented athletes in the former Soviet Union and represented the USSR at all youth levels. In 1990, he emigrated to Israel, and the following year he placed 10th at the World Championship in Tokyo, and participated in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. But two years later, Bavikin's career took a tumble after he tested positive for steroids.

Bavikin's woes did not end there, and after returning to competition four years later, he had to struggle with financial difficulties. "Vadim lives off NIS 4,000 a month," Gur said. "Before he went into a series of competitions in June, he was in top form. But when your bank account is frozen and your credit card is taken away because you have no money to buy food and you've exceeded your overdraft, you're not going to be thinking straight."

Bavikin said that the poor conditions have led to his being stuck. "I've been at the same level for the past four years," he said. "Perhaps if I had received better conditions, I might have reached 85 meters. It's not easy to train when your thinking abut what will happen if you don't make the Olympics. I don't plan to quit, and Beijing is a realistic option."

The next day, Bavikin's mood had swung. "You know what. I'm not going to another competition. I don't have time. I need to prepare for the Olympics; that's the only competition I have. I can't throw 82 meters again and then compete at the Games a few days later. That's not the way it works."