Olympic dreams of 52 promising Israeli athletes put on hold

A record-setting 52 athletes, including Israel’s first baseball team, will have to wait until 2021 to compete due to pandemic.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel’s hopes for more Olympic medals will now have to wait until 2021 as the Tokyo Summer Games have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Who are some of the 52 athletes of the largest contingent the country has ever gathered for the most prestigious sports competition in the world?

Some of them are familiar names, having recently medaled in various championships or represented Israel before at the Olympics.

Of the latter, Artistic Gymnast Alexander Shatilov will now have to wait to don an Israeli uniform for an impressive fourth time in the men’s individual all-around and apparatus events.

Israeli shooter Sergy Rikhter just won the gold medal at the 2019 European Games in the men’s 10-meter air rifle competition.

The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in sailing, Shahar Zubari, and World Championship bronze medalist Linoy Ashram of rhythmic gymnastic fame also have realistic hopes of success when the Games finally do take place.

Perhaps those to make the biggest splash this Olympics are those representing Israel as a group for only the second time in history – Israel’s baseball team. (The first was its soccer team, in 1976.)

The mixture of mostly American college, amateur, Minor League and former Major League players qualified by beating the best European and African teams in round-robin tournaments last year.

Considering that only six teams are going to play for three medals, Israel’s chances of gaining a spot on the podium were considered high when they won in Europe. Those odds only increased when just-retired Ian Kinsler joined the team earlier this month.

During his 14-year career, the greatest Jewish second-baseman of all time was a four-time All Star, two-time Gold Glover (awarded for defensive play), and one of only 12 players in major league history to have had multiple 30-30 seasons (30 home runs and 30 steals).

He also won a World Series with the Red Sox as recently as 2018.

Five Israelis of African extraction are to represent Israel in long-distance running. Three men were set for the marathon, Girmaw Amare, Haimro Alame, and Marhu Teferi.

Two women won a place in the 5,000-meter qualifiers, Selamawit Dagnachew and Lonah Chemtai Salpeter. Salpeter was to run in two additional races – the 10,000-meter event and the marathon.

Israel has also qualified for the group all-around in rhythmic gymnastics, three classes of boat races, and several individual swim events.

Israel has also secured spots in women’s cycling and surfing, and the equestrian team jumping competition.