Israeli Swimmer Lives Father’s Aborted Dream With Trip to London Olympics

Imri Ganiel gets opportunity denied to his father, Amir, by 1980 boycott.

Amir Ganiel was no doubt one of Israel’s greatest swimmers ever. An Israeli record holder and freestyle champion, he also did well on the international stage. He qualified for the 1980 Moscow Games but could not go because of the American-led boycott.

Thirty-two years later, Ganiel’s son, Imri, is due to live out his father’s thwarted dream when he competes in the London Games in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events.

“I appreciate this amazing opportunity,” says Ganiel, 20. “My father qualified and didn’t make it because of politics, and it’s just a shame. I hope that he is proud of me and what I am doing.”

Just like his father, Imri has had to go through a number of hardships. He got his ticket to London through the Israel Olympic Committee as a young athlete, although he did not reach the Olympic criterion. The committee noted his impressive showing in the European Championships when he reached the final of the 100-meter breaststroke while breaking the Israeli record with a time of 1:00.26 minutes. The committee also took into account the consensus that he is one of the country’s future swimming stars.

The road to the European Championships was also an ordeal. Fellow swimmer Jowan Qupty asserted that he should represent Israel at the tournament, and a tribunal of the swimming association ruled that both swimmers would go. Qupty was disqualified in his heat, and Ganiel went on to have the race of his life.

Ganiel says he has no bone to pick with Qupty but did not like the way the tribunal forced the association to take the other swimmer. “I tried to prove that I deserved to go and that I’ll be better than him,” he says. “I went there to prove I’m better and had a great championship, which I can’t complain about. Jowan is really a good swimmer. In the Israel Championship just now he beat me in the 200-meter breaststroke, but I still enjoyed the race. I already own the 100-meter. It wasn’t easy, though I’m the Israeli record holder. There were good competitors there like Gal Nevo, and I didn’t win by much, but it ended the way I wanted it to.”

The younger Ganiel was born in Be’er Sheva, grew up in Omer and has competed since age 12. He says the life of an Olympic athlete doesn’t allow him much free time, adding that he tries to see movies and watch television when he gets the chance, but has little time to himself. He’s in the pool twice a day and goes to the weight room daily, noting that every once in a while the swimmers do something together in the evening.

“I’m very excited about London,” he says. “It’s all that interests me.” Ganiel says he got a chance that few who haven’t made the Olympic entry standard receive, and is looking forward to being part of the celebration.

His goal is to reach the semifinal. “I only hope that Jonathan Kopelev will be fit,” says Ganiel, referring to his teammate who had an emergency appendectomy Saturday night (see box).

“I just visited him in the hospital,” adds Ganiel. "He can walk already and says the pain has gone down. A lot can happen in two weeks. He’s one of our most dedicated swimmers, and I think he deserves to go. Don’t count him out yet. He’ll do everything he can to swim well. Just believe in him.”