The Last Word / Fairy Tale Began With the Club

BEIJING - Shahar Zubari provides the classic script for an Olympic athlete, starting with a special childhood, obstacles and disappointments along the way that suddenly turn into stunning success. As in any Olympic tale, ours also has chapters and twists that without them, there would be no bronze medal in Qingdao.

It involves a slender, seemingly harmless boy who is a fearless fighter who never gives in to anyone, confident in his ability and radiating that self-assuredness. He is as stubborn as a mule, such as insisting his childhood coach, Rafa Balilius, accompany him to China despite his lack of international experience. He has a supportive family - a father who also surfs and parents who invested time, money and education into the child. He is as cool as a cucumber. Those who know him well assert that Zubari, a party guy on the beach, becomes exceptionally focused and concentrated once he approaches the water.

The story has animosity and a driving force - the lack of respect for a young athlete from Eilat and the attention paid to Gal Fridman, even as Zubari emerged as the premier surfer. The story has love - the boy simply loves what he does. And, no less important, the story consists of a little luck; the introduction of the Neil Pryde surfboard came just in time for Zubari, as did the collapse of Britain's Neil Dempsey in the final yesterday.

But where's the bit about the hard work that appears in every Olympic story? Even Zubari describes himself as a little lazy. He doesn't love training. But all the other components made him Israel's sixth medal winner. Zubari made it to where he did thanks to the Eilat Marine Education and Sport Center, his club.

More than the coaches and the support and the family feeling within the small town, the club staff kept its finger on the pulse and became one of the first in the world to buy the new Neil Pryde boards three years ago when the Olympic committee changed from the Mistral. It shows once again nothing can replace work in the field, in the clubs, teams and marinas. That's where it all begins. Even now coaches and trainers are working on the next generation of Olympic hopefuls. They are certainly no less important and arguably even more so than the committees and directors-general and chairmans presiding in air-conditioned offices.