Little Bat-El Aims for Taekwondo Gold

Bat-El Gatterer is one of the new immigrants who is joining the biggest delegation Israel has ever sent to the Olympics, with 42 members. She will fight in the taekwondo tournament.

The shy 21-year-old, who will compete in the 57kg class, was regarded as a prospect for London in 2012 but has peaked early, her coach says.

Gatterer booked her place by winning a bronze at the European Olympic qualifying tournament in Istanbul in January.

"I was a little surprised to have qualified. Iit is a great achievement and it is the dream of every sportsman, but people believed in me," Gatterer told Reuters at her training camp at Wingate Sports Institute near Netanya.

Gatterer comes from the hilltop settlement of Kohav Yaakov, home to some 5,000 people, near the West Bank city of Ramallah and about 20 minutes drive from central Jerusalem, where her main training center is.

Gatterer's French-born parents moved to Kohav Yaakov in the 1980s, where they have raised their six children. Bat-El is the oldest and is serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

Gatterer's settler status - she is probably the first settler with a realistic medal chance - has generated some attention but she plays it down.

"I am a settler. It is where my parents chose to live. It's a great place but I am representing the entire country ... I don't have a special commitment to (settlers) but there is much support and many people send good wishes," she said.

While most top Israeli athletes are largely secular, Gatterer is an observant Jew who does not travel by car on the Sabbath and often has to walk long distances to her competition venue. At Beijing, Gatterer will compete on a Thursday.

Kashruth has been an issue, and Gatterer has become accustomed to taking a suitcase full of kosher food with her. In Beijing, she plans to take some of her own food although kosher fare will also be provided by the organizers, an Israeli Olympic official said.

"We are all very proud of Bat-El. We have known her since she was a small girl and we knew that one day she would get to the Olympics," said Itai Zunzuri, a Kohav Yaakov neighbor.

"She is one of us, but I think that, as this is sport, it is something that can unify all Israelis, regardless of the fact that she is from a settlement, she is representing all Israelis."

Gatterer is set to complete her two years of military service on the day she travels to Beijing. Like other elite athletes, she has spent only a few, token hours at her base.

"Gatterer's main attributes are her speed and strength," said coach Noa Shmida. "Bat-El has the potential to be the best taekwondo fighter in the world. I hope that she will manage to get the most from herself in Beijing," Shmida said. With only 16 entrants in each category, three consecutive victories would ensure a medal.