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Special to the JTA Israel Sets Sail for Olympic Gold

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Since its first Olympics in 1952, Israel’s athletes have yet to stand on the winner’s platform and hear the Hatikva played by the Olympic orchestra. In fact, the closest Israel has come to winning a medal was when weightlifter Edward Weitz placed fifth in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

But this year, Israel’s best chance ever to win its first Olympic medal rests not with its sprinters, swimmers, or sharpshooters, but with two sailors.

When Shimshon Brokman, 27 and Eitan Friedlander, 26, set the jib of their 470 class sailboat off the coast of Long Beach, California, it will be the climax of a sailing career which began in 1972 when the sailing duo burst upon the international sailing circuit by capturing the Youth World Championship in West Germany.

Brokman, a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Friedlander, an employee of a marine equipment company, were highly favored for a medal in the 1980 Olympic sailing competition. But the duo’s road-to-the-gold was temporarily detoured when Israel joined the United States in boycotting the Moscow Olympics that year.

The two sailors have spent the subsequent four years winning trophies in international competitions in France, Hungary and most recently, the 470 World Championships in England. These competitions have not only earned the Israeli sailing team worldwide recognition and have kept their instincts and reflexes honed to Olympic caliber, but has also given them the benefit of racing against the men and boats they will face in the waters off the coast of Long Beach.

In 1980, there were only five countries whose sailing prowess posed a challenge to the Israelis. But in the four elapsed years, the field of competition has grown broader and stiffer. There are now at least 10 countries whose sailing teams are on par with the Brokman/Friedlander duo.

“A good sailor must combine strength, intelligence, technique, knowledge, intuition, and tactics if he wants to win a sailing competition,” says Brokman who, when he isn’t sailing, is studying for a Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the Technion in Haifa. “The speed you achieve is a result of how well these factors are put together.”

Brokman also credits his engineering training as another critical variable in the formula for success. “You don’t have to be an aeronautical engineer to be a good sailor,” he says, “but it helps me understand the dynamics of the sailing. For example, when the boat is moving the physics on the surface of the boat has to be re-defined again and again. I find that much of what I learned at the Technion can, in some way, be applied to sailing and has helped me make less mistakes.”

BEST CHANCE FOR OLYMPIC SPOTLIGHT

Both Brokman and Friedlander find that being their country’s best chance for the Olympic spotlight has its pressures. In such a small country, they say, with only 37 athletes competing in 10 events, the tendency of well-wishers is to expect too much.

While the sailing teams from New Zealand, France, Australia, Great Britain, and the United States will make for a lively and close race, one Olympic observer comments that the Israeli team of Brokman and Friedlander is as “intelligent, aggressive, and skillful” as any of the 28 nations in the Olympic sailing competition.”

“I’m not saying that we’ll win,” says Brokman, “what I’m saying is that we’re as good as any of the other sailors we’ll be competing against. We have a good chance.”

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