Frozen Out of Olympics


She could already see herself on the ice in Vancouver.

When New York-based, Israeli-raised ice skater Tamar Katz arrived in Israel last week for a 24-hour, whirlwind visit, Israeli Olympic Committee officials gave her the Olympic outfit and bag she would carry with her to British Columbia to represent Israel in the Winter Games.

But later that day, like a toe loop gone bad, those same officials yanked Katz’s Olympic dream away from her, ruling that she would not be going to Vancouver.

“It was the worst trip to Israel,” she told The Jewish Week Monday.

Katz, 20, who was born in Dallas and trains in upstate Monsey, moved with her family as a child to Metullah, the home of Israel’s only ice skating rink. She had qualified for the 2010 Olympics according to International Skating Union standards.

But Israeli Olympic officials required that she finish in the top 14 at the European Figure Skating Championships last month, where, weak from a virus, she placed 21st.

Katz unsuccessfully called each member individually to plead her case.
“Some of them were willing to listen to what I had to say, but the most important people I had to appeal to were not even willing to listen to anything I said. Some of them even hung up the phone on me,” Katz said.

Two years ago a similar story befell tennis player Dudi Sela, who was unable to attend the Beijing Summer Olympics.

“These policies fly completely in the face of the whole reason of the Olympics, which are inclusion and participation and camaraderie,” said Jerry Solomon, Katz’s agent.

Katz said she has received an enormous amount of support, particularly from Boris Chait of the Israel Ice Skating Federation and from fans who have joined her Facebook group, “Tamar Katz should be allowed to compete at the 2010 Olympics.”

It didn’t seem to faze Israeli Olympic officials.

“We are certain and all hope that Tamar Katz, who is a talented athlete, will continue to compete and reach high achievements in the international competitions including both Europe and World championship and will have the opportunity to represent Israel in the 2014 winter Olympic Games which will be held in Sochi [Russia],” wrote Efraim Zinger, secretary general of the Committee.

“If they wanted me to get a medal in 2014, it would’ve helped me to have the experience and exposure of this Olympics,” Katz said. “Not only that, but it would have inspired other young Israelis to pick up a pair of skates and try skating for themselves.”

Katz will continue to represent Israel; her next competition is in March at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships in Torino, Italy. She is also currently applying to many of America’s top universities and intends to juggle both studying and skating.

“I plan on working very hard and trying to prove [Israeli officials] wrong,” she said.

For now, with her Olympic gear in hand, Katz still dreams of Vancouver. “I’m ready to walk in the opening ceremony if someone were to call me.”