"I suddenly feel much taller, like I'm walking on air, floating," said Anat Fabrikant on Sunday after deciding to retire from competitive sailing. She looked like someone who just had a 100-pound load lifted off her back.
What does it mean to be committed to competitive sport at Olympic level? What is this madness of athletes, which we'll never understand while we take another drag on a cigarette and sip a coffee?
"Yesterday, after I made a final decision to retire, I was in Tel Aviv. Wow, what a city! I knew it before, but never after midnight, because I needed to train the next day. Yesterday, I stayed out until 12:30. Oh, never mind, I'm a little confused, excited. I haven't really digested it."
Fabrikant laughs when reminded what Doron Shefer said when he shed the burden of his athletic commitment: "My heart told me to retire." She admits that it was ultimately a decision of the heart for her also, but says there are other considerations as well.
Those familiar with her career will remember the buoy she and her partner, Shani Kedmi, missed on their last race at Sydney 2000, a mistake that cost them a medal. That buoy rankled with Fabrikant during the following years and it was clear that only an Olympic medal at Athens 2004 could relieve this itch.
So why has she decided to quit just one year before a chance for redemption? Because even if she had continued, there is a very good chance that she would have not made it to Athens. The sailing team of Nike Kornicki and Vered Bouskila is ahead of Fabrikant and her current partner, Linor Kliger, in the competition for the Olympic slot.
Would Fabrikant still be retiring if this situation were different? "I'm asking myself the same question," she says. "If Linor and I were leading, would I still be leaving? But I haven't been able to answer this."
The question of whether to retire has been weighing on her for several months. A visit to her former partner, Kedmi, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy, only sharpened the intensity of her inner debate. Like many intelligent Olympic athletes, Fabrikant feels that she has been missing out on life. "Really. How much you can go to the gym to work out? Or switch sides in a boat?"
Her partnership with Kliger has also proved less successful than her pairing with Kedmi. "I lived with Shani. I breathed Shani. I was prepared for every move she made. It's different with Linor. She's excellent, and it hurts me to leave her alone, but our combination was not as good."
As in the case of Shefer, it was a fascinating process in which an athlete realizes "I can no longer give 100 percent." The moment of realizing this is exhilarating. Then it comes time to digest this - life is about to change. Fabrikant is studying for a masters degree and presents a program on Sport TV, but these activities were always secondary to sailing, which always was the absolute center of her life. The goal was Athens 2004 and the path entailed fitness, training, coordination and sea wrk. And suddenly there is no longer this path or goal.
"I'm not used to living without goals. Several months ago, I tried to think about what would happen if I quit sailing. And I was unable to do this. Do you see the dark lines under my eyes? It took me a week of sleepless nights to be able to think about this."
On Saturday night, she composed a letter to Yehuda Mayan, the president of the Israeli Yachting Association, and "cried over every line." On Sunday, she met Mayan and her coach and said her goodbyes to everyone. "I've been flying abroad for 10 years and, except for one trip to Club Med in Turkey, it was always for competitions. Next week, I'm flying off for a vacation."
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