Israelis Finish With Heads Held High

In Dubai, Gal Nevo sets an Israeli record in the 200-meter butterfly with a time of 1:56.66.

Israel's national swimming team finished on Sunday morning on a positive note as Gal Nevo set an Israeli record in the 200-meter butterfly. Nevo's 1:56.66 was enough for 23rd place, one-one hundredth of a second ahead of fellow countryman Alon Mandel.

Looking back, Israel met its personal goals, though it fetched no medals, as well as the diplomatic victory of making it to Dubai. The team expected Nevo would reach the 400-meter medley finals while Guy Barnea in the 50-meter and 100-meter backstroke and Amit Ivri in the women's 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly events were capable of reaching the semifinals.

Israeli swimmer Gal Nevo (Reuters)

Then there was the political aspect. The swimmers were allowed in only after pressure was applied by FINA, the international swimming federation, and the International Olympic Committee. And Nevo's final showed that the effort was well worth it.

"We told the swimmers that after we went the distance to get here, they had to work hard and deliver the goods," says Noam Zvi, chairman of Israel's swimming federation. "It was a championship with 150 countries and 800 swimmers. All the powerhouses - the U.S., Germany, China, France and Australia - sent representatives and the fact that Nevo reached the final and that Barnea and Ivri reached the semifinals will give them the faith that they belong with the world elite."

All the more worth it

Nevo, who was not at the top of his game, said he was not surprised by his showing. "I'm not my fittest, but I proved I can raise my game against my rivals," he said.

"I draw a lot out of competitions, especially the records and the final. I would not have come here if I didn't think I could reach the final," he stressed. "And everything that happened before the championship made it even more worth it. The moment you realize they don't want you that much and are doing everything so you won't reach the tournament, then the desire to prove something to the rest of the world spikes. The other swimmers in particular were surprised we made it to Dubai. They were sure we wouldn't show up and didn't have a problem with it."