Israel and the “other Olympics”

Israel and the

Israel may not have picked up a medal at the London Olympic games, but it is a little known truth that when it comes to the Paralympic games – Israel is a superstar.

Since the Paralympic games began, Israel has won 334 medals, including 113 gold, and those numbers are expected to grow at the London 2012 Paralympic games. The national medal total ranks Israel 13th overall in the history of the Games.

It is also not well known that the Paralympics was established in 1948 by a Jewish doctor, Ludwig Guttmann, who had fled Nazi Germany to the United Kingdom. In the UK, Dr Guttman specialised in patients with spinal injuries, and in recognising the impact of good mental health on the body, he encouraged his patients to become involved in sports. This led him to found a sports competition for the disabled, which evolved into the international events – the Paralympics. The Times of Israel reported:

“‘It is a huge irony,’ says Abigail Morris, chief executive of London’s Jewish Museum. ‘Hitler tried to kill all the Jews and people with disabilities. Thanks to his actions, Guttmann ended up here, in the UK, and this year over 4,000 athletes will compete in London at the Paralympic Games. It’s the triumph of human spirit over adversity.’ In fact, Guttmann had an even broader legacy than the Paralympics – he is widely credited with revolutionizing the treatment of spinal injuries.”

This year at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Israel will have 25 athletes, aged 20 to 60, competing in nine different disciplines. One of the star’s of the team is swimmer Inbal Pezaro, twenty five years old, who today won Israel’s first medal, winning a bronze in the 50-meter freestyle S5 class final. She said, “I’m happy to have given Israel a lucky start to the Games”. Pezaro will compete in three more events in London and is confident of claiming multiple medals.

Another athlete competing is Moran Samuel who was basketball player but following the tragic shock of a spinal stroke, reluctantly took up rowing, a sport she now loves. Samuel made headlines in May when she won gold at the World Cup rowing competition in Italy. When the organisers did not have Israel’s national anthem ‘Hatikvah’ on hand Samuel asked for the microphone, and on the podium, sang the Hatikvah from start to finish.

Sharpshooter Doron Shaziri has won six Paralympic medals, and this year will be aiming for gold. Shaziri was disabled while serving in the Golani Brigade in Southern Lebanon.

The Times of Israel writes about his story:

“The Ramat Gan resident was injured by a landmine at the age of 20 while serving with the Golani Brigade in southern Lebanon. ‘I was worried someone would accidentally discharge a bullet and kill me,’ Shaziri said of the moments after the incident as he waited for the rescue forces to reach him. ‘I saw I had no leg, but [wondered] how do you fix it with a prosthetic?’ he told the Sports Channel years later.

As a result of the explosion, the marksman – who had finished his sniper’s course with flying colors – had his leg amputated below the knee. Shaziri turned to sports as part of his rehab. Since he started competing as a sharpshooter, the 45-year-old has won multiple international medals as well as the European and World titles…”

Israel’s success at the Paralympics may also be attributed to the nation being a cutting-edge leader in medical care for the disabled, which has been developed out of necessity – in response to the sheer numbers of war and terror victims who were left disabled.

As veteran Israeli columnist Evelyn Gordon wrote in the Commentary Magazine website, Israel’s success at the Paralympics is also a testament to ‘Israeli’s priorities’:

“Whereas athletes competing in the regular Olympics often struggle financially, since state funding for most forms of sport is minimal, Paralympics athletes benefit from a network of state-supported rehabilitation centers where sports is part of the program for those who want it. It’s not that Israel wouldn’t love having more Olympics medals; the country went wild when Gal Fridman won his gold in 2004. It’s just that caring for its wounded veterans and victims of terror takes precedence – as it should.”

Sharyn Mittelman