Faster, Higher, Stronger? Not for Israel

Can the Israeli sports genome be altered? That would be difficult. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Will it happen? Don't hold your breath.

Uzi Dann
Uzi Dann
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Uzi Dann
Uzi Dann

You have to feel for Lee Korzits, still the world champion, a great surfer, a wonderful athlete and human being. Barely half an hour after her great disappointment, she talked about the importance of friendship - referring to her pal, gold medal winner Marina Alabau. And she apologized for letting her fans down. One suspects this hurt her the most.

But Korzits failed and she's the first to admit it. The lioness was in an excellent position two days before the end of the competition, and in a good position one day before the end. But she fell flat. Of course, she wanted to win, and we have to appreciate that she didn't make excuses such as injuries and health problems. But it doesn't really matter.

The wind played a role, but so did her starts. Whenever Korzits had a bad start, she never got over it. That's what happened on Tuesday, too. When the two-time consecutive world champion begins a race in second place and finishes in sixth, when she finishes ninth in the most important race, it means she collapsed.

The failure in the medal race reflects the failure of the whole Israeli team. Barring a sensation in rhythmic gymnastics, Israel will end its first Olympics since 1988 without a medal. And it has a very talented delegation.

"In the past four years we've won 31 medals," says Gili Lustig, head of the Elite Sports Unit. But obviously, all these medals are less important than what happens in the true medal race: the Olympics.

And in this race, it wasn't only Korzits who failed. Alex Shatilov and Arik Ze'evi, both great athletes, failed, as did all the others. The Israeli failure is comprehensive. All the preparations, effort, funds and coaches - all this led to nothing. And in professional sports it's the results that matter. The heads of the Olympic Committee know that, and so do the officials at the Elite Sports Unit.

True, there were some successes in swimming, and we have to admit we never dreamed of sixth place in the floor exercise. But our reaction also depends on our expectations. It wasn't only the media that expected a medal - Shatilov himself talked about winning a medal; he even won one at the world championships.

The same applies to judoka Alice Schlesinger. The Olympic committee and the Elite Sports Unit had three main targets before the games: to continue winning medals, to have a female athlete on the podium, and to win a medal in a new sport. None of this was achieved, and Lustig was the first to acknowledge that the system failed and that the officials were as responsible as the athletes. The bottom line reads failure. In red.

The question isn't only who will pay the price for this failure, but what next. As my colleague Eyal Gil has written here, maybe Korzits' failure will be a wake-up call.

Israeli sports are built on a very shaky pyramid. Ze'evi has no heir, and in athletics even importing athletes such as Donald Sanford and Jillian Schwartz didn't really work. In tennis, and in most sports, we look into the future and see a void. Israel can count on only one representative at Rio 2016, Olympic Committee chairman Zvi Warshaviak.

If success in sports really matters to Israel, we need a revolution. Not only in budgets, but first and foremost in education. Israel can't boast about its sports education.

The old Hapoel slogan - a pun in Hebrew - was "from thousands to champions." This expressed the belief that if a sport was practiced by the masses, champions would emerge. Nowadays, we invest in those precious few who have already made it to the top. Maybe Israel should invest in thousands of children instead of a few dozen prodigies. This requires planning, patience and perseverance, which, unfortunately, are absent from more important spheres of Israeli life.

Can the Israeli sports genome be altered? That would be difficult. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Will it happen? Don't hold your breath.

Lee Korzits being comforted by Israeli delegation officials after her dissapointing medal race.Credit: Danny Meron
Alex Shatilov competing on the parallel bars during the individual all-around final in London.Credit: Reuters

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