The Last Word / Maybe It Was the Track Quality After All

The odds were against him. Most of the experts said it wouldn't happen. Even this reporter didn't really believe. But just like Turkey in the Euro 2008 Soccer Cup, high jumper Niki Palli never gave up. They said the Israeli Championship at the beginning of the month was the 11th hour. That event was his last chance, so they said. They explained that the meet in Haifa wouldn't be counted because it wasn't official. But for Palli, it ain't over until it's over.

In Haifa, he cleared 2.27 meters. And just like a player tying a soccer game during injury time, he put himself in position at the last moment to win a spot in Beijing. The last hurdle was yesterday's meet in Jerusalem, which the Olympic Committee (Israel) arranged for him thanks to his Haifa feat. And that second 2.27 meter leap yesterday earned him the cherished ticket to China.

Like with Turkey, it's not about talent or desire rather than mental fortitude. In this case it came from his coach, Albert Funjin, but the athlete still has to perform the ultimate feat. After recovering from an injury, after not clearing this height since the March 2007 European championship, and after seeing the door virtually close on him, he did it.

And, he did it not once but twice within a matter of days and under tremendous pressure.

After failing at the Israeli championship Palli said that what was really important to him wasn't the Olympics but rather the desire to prove to himself that he could still attain those heights. His tremendous joy yesterday after finally succeeding made it clear not only that he could but that just like any other player he is thrilled to be to go to the greatest sporting event there is.

The Olympic Committee of Israel deserves a good word and so does the unit for competitive sport. They took a lot of criticism for being unwilling to bend the criteria for Dudi Sela or the long-distance swimmers, but they showed that they know how to be flexible when necessary. Palli's original criterion was 2.30 meters. His status as a young adult lowered the bar to 2.27 meters. The Israeli championship was supposed to be the last opportunity, but Palli proved himself, so they arranged a meet for him in Jerusalem. Who says they aren't considerate now?

The bottom line touches of all things Palli's claims against the stadium in Hadar Yosef, where the Israeli championship was held. It is supposed to be the best and most important stadium in Israel. When Palli talked about the track being impossible, people thought he was just looking for an excuse. "In Haifa, a place I'm used to, I can clear this height without any problem," he said two weeks ago. And he was right. It turns out that he can do it not only in Haifa but in the ancient stadium in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. It doesn't sound so much any more like an excuse but more a call to investigate how the track at Hadar Yosef is being maintained.