An Israeli Olympics

By | Jul 26, 2012
Culture, Latest

by Daniela Enriquez

The build-up to the Olympics is always a busy one for those participating. The athletes need to be in good shape and well prepared in order to succeed, the flag-bearers for the opening ceremony have to be chosen and heads of state are called to take photos with their national teams.

As with other countries, Israel’s July was full of “Olympic” contingencies and problems to solve. First of all, the decision to hold the opening ceremony on a Friday night led Shimon Peres to remain home, refraining from flying to London in order to respect Shabbat. The decision made by the Israeli president is admirable and well represents the culture of his country; I wonder whether we will follow his example and abstain from watching the opening ceremony this Friday evening…

Thumb up for President Peres!

The second issue regards the initial decision made by the BBC Olympics 2012 website, to list Jerusalem as the national capital of Palestine, rather than of Israel, leaving a blank space under the name of the Israeli capital. Requests for an explanation came from all over the country, including from the press and politicians. Bewildered by the BBC’s decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Facebook to launch an appeal to all supporters of “Israeli Jerusalem.” This social network campaign is called “Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel,” and already has almost 20,000 fans. After this protest, BBC Olympics 2012 decided to move Jerusalem to Israel, living a blank where Palestine has formerly had a capital city. Complicating the situation, the BBC website located Israel in Europe, while Palestine remained in Asia.

Definitely, thumbs down for BBC!


However, the most serious problem relates to the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, in which 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were taken as hostages and killed. The International Olympic Committee is refusing to observe a one-minute silence, requested by the state of Israel, in honor of the people who lost their lives in that terrible event. Israel has not given up on this, and the quarrel over whether or not there will be a moment of silence remains open, with many public figures–including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and NBC sportscaster Bob Costas–joining the call for a moment of silence. Iranian athletes let the world know that, in the event that the Committee decides to respect the Israeli request, they will keep the silence along with the rest of the world.

I am holding my thumbs on this, and await Friday!

In the meantime, still shocked by the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, Israeli and British forces are working together to assure the highest level of security for all athletes at the games.

Before checking out the Israeli Olympic team of 2012, let’s have a look at how Israel did in past games. Israeli athletes seem to be especially good at canoeing, judo and sailing. In the last event, they won two bronze medals in 1996 and 2008 and a gold in Athens in 2004. In 1992, the Israeli team earned one silver and one bronze medal in judo, and another bronze in 2004. Finally, during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Israel took the third spot in canoeing. To summarize, overall they have won one gold, one silver and five bronze for a total of… medals.

Come on Israel, you can do better! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

This year’s Israeli team is composed of 37 members, 19 men and 18 women, who are set to compete in several fields. Among these are badminton, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, synchronized swimming and Tennis.

Two members of the Israeli team have unusual stories: Donald Sanford and Zohar Zimro, two athletes with very different stories but two things in common–their love of sports and an acquired Israeli citizenship.

Sanford was born in the United States and his Olympic journey started at Arizona State University. As a student there, he met Danielle, an Israeli girl from Ein Shemer, a kibbutz in northern Israel. The two fell in love and got married. Even though Sanford was not raised as a Jew, he got to know the religious traditions and culture of Israel through his wife’s family. Sanford eventually decided to make aliyah, obtaining an Israeli passport and citizenship. After beginning his career in the 1500-meter dash, Sanford soon switched to the 400-meter dash, in which he will compete this year.

Zohar’s story is different from Sanford’s, but similar to those of other Africans who, as he did, emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in the late 1980s, following their Zionist dream. The marathon runner described his life as a “Cinderella story” which brought him closer than ever to fulfilling his biggest dream: “achieving something historic at the Olympics” in order to be remembered forever in Israel.

What to say? Yalla, Zohar! Yalla!

The most famous character of the Israeli Olympic team had a bit of drama: Baby Bamba, the vetoed Israeli mascot. The cartoon was initially chosen to be the mascot of the 2012 team, but in March, it was removed from the list of mascots. Its fault? Looking too similar to the logo of a popular children’s snack.

But Israelis aren’t the only ones with “Olympic” problems. July is the month of Ramadan–so it won’t be easy for all the Muslim athletes who will need to compete on an empty stomach.

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