After four years of training and dreaming, 47 Israeli athletes have arrived in Rio looking to make their place in history. Here are their stories.
The State of Israel has had a long and sometimes fraught relationship with the Olympic Games. Although the new nation did not formally compete in the games until 1952, four years after it was founded, an official Olympic committee had already been established under the British Mandate in the 1930s; but Israel had to wait a long time before reaping the rewards of participation. It did not win a medal of any kind until 1992, and did not win a gold medal until 2004.
Most tragic, of course, was the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in a terror attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Palestinian atrocity shocked Israel and the world, and led to a now-legendary intelligence operation to hunt down those responsible. In a small consolation, Shahar Tzubari, nephew of the lone survivor of the Munich massacre, won a bronze medal in windsurfing at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Today, however, things are looking up. As these photos demonstrate, Israel is fielding a formidable Olympic team this year, and there are several participants with a serious shot at the gold in Rio de Janeiro.
Among the most promising is judoka champion Yarden Gerbi, currently number four in the world in her weight category. Then there is Yakov Toumarkin, Israel’s leading swimmer, who won the silver at the last European Championships and hopes to place higher at the Rio games. Another competitor is a relatively new olah. Triple jumper Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko hails from Ukraine, where she competed on national teams, but she made aliyah to Israel in 2013 and, since then, has only risen in stature.
Israel’s Olympic team also contains a notable first: Israel’s first female wrestler to attend the games. So far, Ilana Kratysh has scored several medals in European championships and hopes to take the gold in Rio.
As these photos show, there is an astonishing diversity of other competitors: Gymnasts, golfers, martial artists, runners, windsurfers, badminton players, and others; all seeking to honor the Olympic motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”
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Banner Photo: Yarden Gerbi / Instagram