Two Israeli Swimmers Secure Places in Olympics Semifinals

Shapira Bar-Or, Barnea break national records in heats for 200m freestyle and 100m backstroke respectively.

BEIJING - Israeli swimmers Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or and Guy Barnea had an outstanding day on Sunday at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, setting two Israeli records and qualifying for the semifinals that were to be held early Monday morning.

Shapira Bar-Or finished first in his 200m freestyle heat with a time of 1:47.78, improving his personal best by almost a second. But when he emerged from the pool it was not clear if his efforts would be enough to make it to the next stage. Only when the other results came in was his place in the semis secured - he came in 15th overall.

During the swim, Shapira Bar-Or kept a steady and solid pace over the first 100m, then upped his pace. "This was my aim when I got here and my strategy paid off," he said.

Until a few weeks ago, Shapira Bar-Or was not planning to take part in the 2008 Olympics and was focusing on the 2012 Games in London. He was included in the delegation as a last minute fill-in for Max Javen, whose drug test came back positive and was banned from swimming for two years. "Today I proved to everyone that I deserve to have been sent here," he said.

A few hours later, Guy Barnea jumped into the pool knowing he had to break his own personal record if he wanted to qualify for the next round. He set a time of 54.40 in the 100m backstroke, improving his own best by 40 milliseconds, which got him to the next round.

"I thought I needed an even better result," he said just fresh out of the water. "I thought I'd have to swim under 54 seconds to reach the finals. I'm not the team's top swimmer; we're all a team and we're back on the map."

Barnea stressed the camaraderie among the Israeli swimmers and spoke about the tragedy that befell teammate Alon Mendel, whose father died in an accident earlier this week.

"We've had a tough week with what happened to Alon," Barnea said. "His poise and his sportsmanship have pushed us forward. Then Nimrod gave me a great boost with his result." Mendel is set to compete today in the 200m butterfly.

Also Sunday, Israeli swimmer Anna Gostomelsky set a new Israeli record when she completed the 100m backstroke in 1:01.87. "There are some great results in this competition," she said, adding jokingly: "I don't know whether it's the drugs or the swimsuits."