Articles Of Interest

Sea Sports In Israel

Tal Ben Ezra

Israeli Frontline

Aug 15, 2013

Windsurfing, Israel

The sport of sailing developed over several decades before the first medal winners in the 1990s. The first race in israel dates back to 1939. The city sailing race had a simple route - from Haifa to Tel Aviv and back. Some of the boats in the race were also used for unloading illegal immigrants. The race soon became a tradition.

Many in Israel credit the late Shimshon Bober as one of the founders of the sport. A German refugee who was brought to Palestine in 1935 at the age of three, he later helped unload illegal immigrants onto the beaches and in 1955 moved from Nahariya to Kibbutz Sdot Yam.

He once said things got underway when he spent July and August on the beach, and started with others to teach the children of Sdot Yam to sail. Bober founded the Sdot Yam sailing club with a major emphasis on maritime education and later competitiveness.

In 1956 Yitzhak Ofek - another pioneer of Israeli sailing - asked Haim Glovinsky, who was the head of the Israeli delegation to the Melbourne Games, to collect as much material on international sailing as possible so that Israelis could catch a glimpse of this new phenomenon.

The first Snipe dinghy arrived in Israel in 1962 as the first race model alongside the Flying Dutchman. Israelis, however, stuck to the non-Olympic 420 model for economic reasons.

Israel's first international achievements came in 1968, when Yair Michaeli and the national team won third place at a prestigious competition in England. A year later Zefania Carmel and Lydia Lazarov won the 420 world championship. "We surprised the whole world. Everyone was shocked by these so-called Palestinians, who came out of nowhere to win," recalls Michaeli.

With continuing success in the 1970s, sports officials in Israel decided to start competing for the Olympics. Michaeli and the late Yitzhak Nir represented Israel at Munich 1972. Michaeli recalls that until then the team at most trained on weekends.

He says they went to Munich with the explicit, modest goal of vying for first place. "Afterward the tragic event of course occurred on the third day of our competition," he says. "No one knew what to do. No one answered our phone call. We said we'd continue competing. The moment we learned we lost people, there was no more point in competing and the Olympics ended for us."

Israelis made slow, methodical progress throughout the 1970s and 1980s. They brought in professionals from abroad to teach them how to make higher quality, efficient sails and to coach. They hired the first fitness coach, Itzik Ben Melech - now director of the Elite Sports Unit at Wingate Institute, in the 1980s.

There are numerous reasons for sailing to be the premier Olympic sport in Israel: the calm weather, the beaches which offer different sailing conditions, the fact that one can train in Israel 12 months a year. Another element is perhaps the most important one: love for the sea, which literally lies in Israel's backyard.

Sailor Vered Buskila says that whatever Israelis lack, their character comes out in the competitions. She says it takes a little nerve and stubbornness, combined with thinking out of the box, and the Israelis will be fine.

"The sea is an inseparable part of all our lives," she adds. "Love for the sea leads to love of the sport."

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