Sailing / Kliger, Sela Touch Gold but Settle for Silver in Istanbul

Mismatched couple conquer extreme winds, egos to forge successful partnership.

When Gideon Kliger selected Eran Sela to replace longtime partner Udi Gal at the end of last year, some sailing officials wondered how Sela - a windsurfer from Sdot Yam - would work with one from Hapoel Tel Aviv considering the political tension between their two clubs. Others doubted the young Sela could deliver the same goods as his predecessor.

Yesterday, the pair won a silver medal on the final day of the 470 class European Championship in Istanbul to finish their first season together, reminding everyone that Israel's sea-borne medal hopes for the 2012 London Games lay not only with the NeilPryde surfers.

Kliger, left and Sela
Ilan Tashtash

The team started out yesterday ranked second, knowing that the top six pairs were all in striking distance of gold but could also end up with nothing. Kliger and Sela jumped off to a great start, took the lead and looked on their way to a gold, but the Greek team of Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis passed them in dramatic fashion to knock the Israelis off the top of the podium by two points.

"I felt a bit amiss because I've already got two silver medals and wanted a gold one, but then I caught myself and wondered how I could be disappointed," said Kliger, 30, after the race. "It was supposed to be a year of getting acclimated to one another, and this achievement goes beyond expectations."

Kliger said it was a crazy race where the Israelis never felt safe, and that the extreme winds made it one of the toughest medals he has won. "Despite the pressure, the medal race was my best one, including my time with Udi," he said.

Sela, 25, said the race proved they belong at the top. "There wasn't a special tactic for the final race," he said. "We saw the gold before our eyes and were a little disappointed, but we easily could have finished without a medal."

The young medalist credited his partner, saying he would not be anywhere without Kliger. "I've sailed with many helmsmen, and what makes makes our team the most special is his lack of ego," said Sela. "Neither of us cares who makes the decision, as long as it's the right one."

So far the move to team up has been the best decision of all, and the silver medal is worth a NIS 26,250 bonus per sailor from Israel's Olympic Committee.

Mashiah credits Fridman for bronze medal

Nimrod Mashiah, fresh off his World Championship bronze medal in the Neil Pryde class, singled out former Olympic champion Gal Fridman yesterday at a ceremony held by the Olympic Committee of Israel. "I managed to stay focused for a year," he said. "If I had a conflict with myself, I found the answer with Gal Fridman."

Fridman, Mashiah's coach, said the goal was to train his charge to negotiate different weather conditions. "I made a lot of demands of him, and he remained steady throughout all the races," Fridman said.

Yehdua Maayan, chairman of the Israel Yachting Association, added that the race between Mashiah and Shahar Tzuberi for the country's lone spot in London in the Neil Pryde class will run to the last moment, expressing confidence that whoever goes will bring home a medal.