Winning Is What Matters Most

Rami Hipsh
Rami Hipsh

Thirty years ago, when Shmuel Lalkin, the incumbent chairman of the Olympic Committee of Israel, mourned the massacre of the 11 Israeli athletes at the official ceremony in the Munich Olympic stadium and promised that Israel would continue to compete and would return to the Olympics, he was also referring to the medals that Israeli athletes would one day win.

Until Saturday, it appeared that the return of Israeli athletes to competition in Munich was meant primarily as a symbolic show of quantitative strength. But Alex Averbukh, who won gold in the pole vault, proved on Saturday that the real goal of every athlete is not just to take part, but to do so at the highest level and to take home a medal.

The picture of Averbukh standing on the winners' podium flanked by the two German pole vaulters, who placed second and third, and the German spectators standing and showing respect for "Hatikvah" partially made us forget the fact that 17 Israeli athletes traveled to Munich and demonstrated Israel's very ordinary ability on the track and in the field.

The participants in yesterday's ceremony commemorating the killing of 11 athletes by Palestinian terrorists know that they are bringing home with them today two important memories: one in their hearts - the memorial ceremony; and one in their hands - Averbukh's gold medal.

Averbukh's achievement - the first time that an Israeli has won a gold medal at a major athletics championship - proved the talent and professionalism of the 27-year-old who immigrated to Israel some four years ago from Irkutsk in Siberia. Already as an unknown, he won the bronze medal at the world championships in Seville in 1999.

In 2000, Averbukh won gold at the European Indoor Championships and on Saturday, he proved once again that he has the ability to raise the level of his performance when it matters most.

This certainly cannot be said about the other Israelis in Munich, who did not succeed in fulfilling their potential.

Irena Lanskiy, who arrived in Munich with hopes of reaching the finals, and even winning a medal in the 100-meters hurdles, failed to live up to expectations and did not reach the finals.

Svetlana Gnezdilov gave a solid performance in the heptathlon in what was her first appearance at a big meet.

Israel's relay team, handicapped by the injuries to Tommy Kafri and Tal Mor, were unable to properly train for the event.

The team failed to even finish their heat, while Gideon Yablonka and Alex Pokhomovskiy, who ran in the 100 meters sprint, both finished last in their respective heats.

High-jumper Constantin Matusevitch arrived in Munich injured and retired after just one attempt. He deliberated before traveling to Munich, knowing that he was incapable of a good performance, but the desire to take a large Israeli contingent to the championships won out in the end.

A fitter Matusevitch would have made it into the finals, and might have even won a medal. He knows it.



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