Father Figure

Dmitriy Kroyter and Anatoly Shafran high jump.

Dmitriy KroyterProfession: high jumping
Age: 19
Outstanding achievements: gold medal at Singapore Youth Olympics (2010), gold medal at the World Youth Championships in Italy (2009), personal record (2.24 meters) at the age of 17 at a competition in Moscow a record achieved by only three adult Israeli jumpers
Residence: Tel Aviv

Anatoly Shafran
Age: 58
Coaching since: 1979
Coaching Kroyter since: 2005
Residence: Tel Aviv

Koby Kalmanovich

Dimitriy Kroyter doesn’t forget the lesson taught to him by his coach Anatoly “Tolek” Shafran when he was 14 years old.
“We had decided that Tolek would pick me up for practice from the road near my house,” recalls the 19-year-old high jumper, who’s nicknamed Dima. “We arrived after school two or three minutes late. I saw Tolek’s car, but he had already driven away. I called him and he told me to get on a bus and come to practice. It took me a long time, and when I came the practice was almost over already, and Tolek was preparing to go home. I remember I was sad and angry, and asked, ‘Why did you tell me to come if I’m not even practicing?’ He replied: ‘So that you’ll learn not to be late again.’ From then on I really was never late again. Except for two or three times,” says the talented young athlete, with a big smile on his face.

Kroyter won the national championship at the age of 16 when he jumped to a height of 2.19 meters an amazing result that won him a gold medal at the Singapore Youth Olympics two years ago. Kroyter is also a talented triple jumper (an Israeli record holder until the age of 18, with 15.41 meters) and an outstanding broad jumper, but in the high jump he is a rare talent by international standards. In the past year he has been suffering from an annoying injury to his Achilles heel, but is still expected to reach the London Olympics, where his goal is, simply, “the finals. I don’t want to come just to compete.”

Shafran clarifies: “There’s a very big difference in athletics between youth and adults. It’s a difficult transition and that’s why Dima is suffering somewhat from the physical aspect. But there’s no question he has talent and the ability to go as far as possible.”

Kroyter thinks that he has already gone far: “I grew up in south Tel Aviv next to the old central bus station. There was no money at home and my mother, who works as a housekeeper, raised me by herself. She and Tolek raised me. My father lives in Moldova and I have no contact with him. But Tolek is like a father to me. He’s been coaching me since I was 12 and he’s the first to know about anything that happens in my life. I can consult with him about things that I don’t even talk about with my mother. I’m very close to her, but Tolek knows quite a few things about me that even she doesn’t know.”

Shafran doesn’t think that’s unusual: “As Dima’s coach I have to know everything about him. What he’s doing in school, what he eats, when he went to sleep, who his friends are, which girls he hangs around with. Aside from that I also have to know everything related to him as an athlete. It’s not only coaching, but being a teacher, a psychologist, a pharmacologist, everything. This is understood all over the world, and the coach is treated accordingly. Here in Israel we earn NIS 2,500 a month. That’s a shame. Because without coaches there won’t be any athletes. And the honor that Dima has already brought to the country is extraordinary.”

Kroyter’s athletic prowess entitled him and his mother to Israeli citizenship, but his elder brother Yevgeny was expelled from the country, because their mother is not Jewish; only a serious liver illness (and young Kroyter’s connections) enabled him to return, about a year and a half ago. The brother was waiting for a liver transplant, but the waiting list was too long and he died before his turn came.

“In spite of everything this is my country and I’m very proud to represent it,” Kroyter asserts.

As for the 58-year-old coach, who’s so proud of his protege: “I have a daughter, but Dima is like my son. To see how he has grown up and how he has overcome so many difficulties makes me very proud.”

Kroyter smiles at him and adds: “Look what I have today: an apartment, a car, a salary, sponsors, trips all over the world, an opportunity to be at the top of world athletics, and a good matriculation certificate. Without Tolek I wouldn’t have anything, and there’s no knowing where I would have been today in life. Tolek is much more than a coach. And I love him even though he doesn’t forgive me for being late.”