Handball / Dedicated to the Bitter End

Leonid Doroshenko spends the warm handball offseason in his Holon home, wearing boxer shorts, his 124 kilograms distributed across a two-meter frame. The ASA Tel Aviv goalkeeper opens the door with a glass of juice in his hand - his lunch. He has been fasting.

"It's been 18 days," he says. "It's something I do once every few years. I go 40 days without eating, and just drink. It started when I was a boy in Ukraine. It may seem abnormal to others, but I think it's good for sport, good for life."

Doroshenko, who turns 45 next week, spoke to Haaretz on the eve of yesterday's national handball match against Germany in Rishon Letzion, where he made his final appearance with the squad and received a special award for 18 years of service.

Germany defeated Israel 40-21, and Doroshenko did not see any action as two young Israelis played goalkeeper.

In March, team coach Gilad Maor informed Doroshenko that he was planning to release him. "It was a difficult conversation," Maor says, "but I had to do it." The coach adds that he wanted to rejuvenate the team and to let Mordechai Sordo, Zvika Gross and Gil Yaakov gain more experience in the goalie position.

The talk with Maor is etched in Doroshenko's mind. "Gilad said he wanted to let the younger ones play," he recalled. "Just like that - on the telephone. He could have at least come up and spoken with me, but it was easiest for him to call. I don't want to go to the final ceremony at all."

Doroshenko says it's just theatrics: "I'm angry and disappointed, and I still don't understand why I can't continue with the national team. Just because there are younger goalkeepers than me does not mean they are better than me. Every country treats age as an advantage for goalies, and only here is it a problem. When a goalie is young, he doesn't know tactics. He doesn't understand the game the way more mature players do."

From Seoul to Rehovot

Leonid Doroshenko arrived in Israel in 1991, three years after winning the gold medal with the Soviet Union at the Seoul Olympics. He says he left the USSR for "political reasons," passing up the chance to return home and be part of the Unified Team that won a gold in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

On the wall at the entrance to his home stands a picture that reveals the story of his career. He starts by pointing to a black-and-white photo of the team that went to Seoul. He explains that one player played in Barcelona, another conquered Europe. Doroshenko, in the center of the picture, smiling with a full head of hair, ended up with Hapoel Rehovot.

He says he remembers every detail of his career since arriving in Israel, including the tricks the people managing the teams use to survive in a barely professional sport. He says it was nice in Rehovot until then-mayor Yaakov Sandler, a former handball player, refused to pay the team.

Doroshenko moved on to Maccabi Rishon Letzion, but says he left because the club refused to pay half a season's salary to him.

Been there, done that

"I've lost a lot of money in Israel," he explains. "As far as I'm concerned, it's nice when they pay, but I also play when they don't pay. In Israel, they promise millions at the start because they know in any event they won't pay most of it."

To supplement his salary, Doroshenko moonlights in Tel Aviv as a security guard at nightclubs and bars. In the afternoon, he spends his time drawing and listening to heavy rock. He has no family in Israel, but, he says, "as long as I have handball, I'm fine. I don't need anything else. People can tell me it's funny I work at night, too, but they never promised me I could make a living from handball."

For over a decade he has been at ASA Tel Aviv, after approaching its management. "At least there they know there's no money," he says. "They told me, 'you'll get what you get' and since then, I've been there."

Doroshenko says he has lived through all of Israeli handball's history. "All the coaches trained me - every athlete played with me," he explains. "They all retired a long time ago."

This is why it bothered him so much when he watched one of the latest national team games. "I was on the team for 18 years, and then I hear the broadcasters say, 'It's so good that finally there are Israeli goalkeepers,'" he says. "And what am I? It's racism. Why are they telling me get out of here?"

Before finishing, Doroshenko stops by his trophy case. It's a modest monument, with several medals for excellence, cups and a championship plate with ASA from the beginning of the decade.

"I'll put in there the cup I am going to get," he says, "but it will be deep inside, so no one will see it."

Doroshenko hates questions about retirement. "Only because of you and your questions did Maor no longer want me to play for the national team. I have nothing else. My life still isn't over, and I want to go on and on, playing. That's exactly what I am losing weight for. I'll die in the goalpost."