The director of Israel’s Paralympic delegation says he hopes the team can leverage its success in London to bring more youth into the field of handicapped sports. Israel finished the 2012 Paralympics 45th in the medals table out of 75 countries, with eight medals − two more than in Beijing.
Ron Bolotin, delegation director and a former Paralympic swimming medalist, says the team got a huge amount of news and feedback from Israel during the Games, and he hopes this support will be translated into sustained budgets for Paralympic sports. He says infrastructure is particularly important because a lot of youth who could be successful in these sports don’t get involved.
Regarding the current Games, Bolotin says most of the athletes met expectations. “Not everyone, but the situation is definitely good,” he said.
Israel failed to win gold in Beijing four years ago, but Noam Gershony, who began competing in tennis less than two years ago, won gold in the quad singles to end that drought. Gershony also won bronze in the quad doubles with Shraga Weinberg. Cyclist Koby Lion won silver in the men’s time trial, his first-ever Paralympic medal. Inbal Pezaro celebrated her third Paralympics with bronze in three swimming events, while Itzhak Mamistvalov also picked up a swimming bronze. Doron Shaziri picked up silver in the 50-meter Rifle 3 positions.
Israel was a powerhouse in the Paralympics when it started participating in the Games in the 1960s. Turning to sports as a means of rehabilitation, particularly for wounded veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, led to Israel being at the top of the medals table and even hosting the 1968 Games when Mexico City was not equipped to hold the Paralympics after its own Summer Olympics.
The world, however, has moved on since then. “Paralympic sports are no longer intended for rehabilitation. It is a competitive sport in all respects,” says Bolotin. “The countries leading the medal table − China, Russia, Britain, Ukraine and Australia − are countries that invested huge sums in infrastructure and focused on handicapped sports being competitive and not rehabilitative.”
The top countries also invest in technological innovations. Oscar Pistorius is not the only runner to have running blades, and wheelchairs also underwent innovations for Paralympic athletes. The Israeli athletes try not to fall behind, Bolotin says. He hopes that the excitement over Gershony’s gold and the rest of the medals will reap funding down the line.
Bolotin wants to target handicapped youth, even though people like Gershony, Lion and even he himself are wounded IDF veterans. “It’s true that wounded IDF veterans made high profile accomplishments. I was an athlete before I was injured and it really helped me later on,
“It’s hard for an adult to get involved in a sport after not doing it earlier,” he adds. “Everywhere in the world Paralympic athletes are groomed from childhood, and we still have a hard time reaching all the target audiences. There’s not enough public awareness among, for example, the Arab population, which has great potential. Perhaps the successes this time will motivate handicapped children to engage in sports.”
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