So far 30 Israeli athletes have guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team for Rio de Janeiro, with the judokas seen as having the best chance to win a medal.
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The first Israeli to meet the qualifying criteria for this summer’s games was Yakov Toumarkin, who finished seventh in London in 2012 in the 200-meter backstroke and set an Israeli record. Toumarkin qualified a year ago.
Freestyle wrestler Ilana Kratysh was the most recent to qualify after winning the World Qualification Tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, last Saturday. She will be the first woman wrestler to represent Israel in the Olympics.
The largest Israeli Olympic team was the 43-member delegation in Beijing in 2008. But it’s very possible this record will be broken this summer, with probably seven or eight judokas all told.
Of course, the record for the largest Olympic team is an anecdote; the real question is whether any Israelis will win medals after none reached the podium four years ago in London.
For Israel, any personal best, Israeli record or entry to a final round will be a great achievement; only a very few Israelis have a decent chance at a bronze.
Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko, who won a triple-jump silver medal at the 2015 World Championships, could win a medal in Rio if she returns to form after surgery.
Also, Israel’s women’s rhythmic gymnastics team could earn a medal if it has its best day; otherwise, most of Israel’s medal hopes are on the judo mats.
Since judoka Yael Arad in 1992, no Israeli woman has won an Olympic medal.
Women are the key to Israel becoming a modern country in sports, said the coach of the women’s volleyball team, Arie Selinger. Mothers are the ones who control their children’s lives and lead them onto the playing fields, and if the country doesn’t understand that, it won’t get anywhere in sports, Selinger said.
The Rio delegation will probably have at least three mothers on it, all of them with an inspiring story.
Kenyan-born Lonah Chemtai Korlima only recently received Israeli citizenship after a raft of red tape, and two other mothers have met the Olympic qualifying requirements – but not the Israeli ones yet. Anastasia Gloushkov, who teams with Evgenia Tetelbaum in synchronized swimming, still needs to qualify – and become the first Israeli woman to participate in four Olympics.
Israel may make its Olympic debut in a number of sports such as golf, the triathlon and mountain biking. Meanwhile, Dudi Sela hopes to be the first male singles tennis player to reach the Olympics since 1992.
Meanwhile, eight have qualified for the track and field squad, with origins from all over the world. This number may grow.