Many of Israel’s swimming achievements of the last decade are registered in the name of Gal Nevo. Without excelling in any single style but through a successful combination of all four, he ranked sixth in the world in 2009 in the 400-meter individual medley and only a few bubbles separated him from the finals in two Olympic Games.
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Now after marrying his girlfriend, Liron, and changing coaches, Nevo, 27, is preparing for what is expected to be his last Olympic campaign. Although he had difficulty reprising his peak performances during this past season, he doesn’t intend to limp into Rio in 2016, but to stretch the limits of his ability to provide his career a fitting finish.
“Since I know the next two years are almost certainly my last in professional swimming, I’m trying to extract as much as possible from this experience,” he told Haaretz, a moment before the World Short Course Championships opened in Doha on Wednesday. “Every competition is significant. Both in terms of experience and achievement, I must exploit every opportunity.”
At the last European Championships in Berlin, Nevo didn’t make it to the finals. Aside from the competitive disappointment, he also suffered a financial setback when his monthly stipend from the Israel Olympic Committee was cut to only 4,500 shekels ($1,127). After those lukewarm results and considering his age, Nevo realized he had to reinvent himself to excel. So he parted ways with Leonid Kaufman, the national coach who had nurtured him for years.
Nevo turned to his friend, Ehud Segal, and the two drew up a plan that would suit the swimmer’s current situation. The basic idea is a focused training program of fewer hours in the water and more intense workouts that simulate competition, knowing that the body doesn’t need to, nor cannot, handle very long distances.
“The objective was to put me in a totally different atmosphere,” he says. “The minute I changed a few things together, suddenly I found myself reaching new levels in training. The increased intensity enables the head and the body to reach higher levels of pain and madness.”
While he will not be able to assure himself an Olympic slot at this Qatar event, the hostile environment – which in the past has included hiding the Israeli flag from the TV screens – gives him motivation to shine in the pool.
“We are not really forgetting everything that happened here on previous occasions, it’s clear that there’s someone who doesn’t really want us here,” says Nevo, whose athletic achievements are always wrapped in a sense of authentic mission.
“It gives you desire and strength to succeed here because in addition to those who admire you, those who hate you are also watching and testing you.”
Are the other swimmers aware of your special circumstances in Doha?
“Here and there people ask, but swimmers have started to be indifferent to the fact that we’re swimming and above our lane there are people with earphones. They don’t really make the connection. All Israelis know that Qatar is funding terrorism, but the average European or American doesn’t really understand this. Without a doubt we are motivated to stand out and upset people here. We laughed about how we have to win in the early, weaker heats to make the producers uncomfortable [because it’s customary to film close-ups of the winner].
Nevo’s best achievement in the World Championships in a 25-meter pool was recorded two years ago in Turkey, where he came in fifth. This time, given the recent upheavals, he hopes mainly to get close to his best times and get into the finals. Further along, of course, he plans to aim higher.
“The world’s best swimmers didn’t make their best times at age 25, but at 27 and up,” he says. “Apparently experience plays no less significant a role than physical ability.”