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At the Olympics, Israel’s athletes pay a high cost in the quest for gold

CM 05/08/2021

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Israel stared on in pride on Sunday as Artem Dolgopyat brought Israel’s second-ever gold medal from the Olympic men’s floor exercise event of the artistic gymnastics competition.
A lifetime’s worth of working, training, and studying reached its climax as he tumbled and flew through the air successfully. After all that hard work, he achieved his goal.
Dolgopyat is receiving a payment of NIS 500,000 before taxes from the Israel Olympic Committee for his efforts. He’s one of the few Israeli Olympians who get that financial reward. Most Olympians go out to the world stage and perform in their profession, representing Israel in the best way possible. But what do they get in return?

“My expectations from myself were always very high. Every day when I wake up, I demand a lot of myself. It’s a lot of mental work and a lot of physical work,” Timna Nelson Levy, an Israeli judoka who competed in the Olympics this summer, told The Jerusalem Post. “There was not one workout that I can say I didn’t give my 100%. Even if it wasn’t a good workout, I still gave my 100%.”
She explained that every aspect of her life is judo. “It’s very hard, it demands everything; to sleep right, to eat right, to discipline oneself in every aspect of life. My life revolves around this 24/7.”
All of this work was to show up for Israel and represent the country. But life wasn’t so sweet when she returned from the competition to Israel and to the “real world.”
“As a kid, my parents helped me however they could, if there was something I really wanted, but they couldn’t give me everything I wanted,” she explained. “I say this with a lot of pain: The state does not help Olympic sports people.
“Four months ago, Frux Capital Investments sponsored me and has been helping me financially so much; they really feel like a family. Sadly, there are Olympians who do not have sponsors, and the chances of getting this are so low.
“It hurts the heart. Olympians must be given as much as possible because we are the face of Israel. We must be given this support,” she said.
Levy is not the only one feeling this way.
ACCORDING to Shahar Zubari, Israeli Olympic bronze medalist in windsurfing, the Olympics are, at the end of the day, a job.
“I began windsurfing at age six, but only at age 25, I understood that I work at this,” he told the Post. “So even if it’s not defined this way, it’s nevertheless the development of a career that becomes, after a few years, [the athletes’] entire lives. Their friends and family move on to the army, to university, to work. An athlete stays an athlete, developing a specific set of skills. These skills don’t really help them in life after all of that, but they do get to know themselves and develop the ability to cope with some difficult circumstances.”
He explained that athletes are oftentimes left in the dust, having a difficult time transitioning to a career for the remainder of their lives, since so much for so long revolved around their sport. This is not helped by the lack of support by the state mentioned by Levy.
“Athletes, because they go into this at a young age, they do it out of passion and from the heart, and they want to achieve their dreams no matter the price. I continue to chase my dream. The day you quit, you start from nothing, and that’s where you must know how to push forward your athletic career to a bunch of different places,” Zubari said.
But with little to no professional background, not everyone manages to move on properly.
Indeed, the story was quite big at the time: In 2018, Israel’s first Olympic gold medalist, Gal Fridman, was back in the spotlight after reports surfaced that he planned on selling his Olympic medal because of the financial burdens he was facing at the time. Reports later emerged that he ended up not selling the medal, after the state had encouraged him to hold on to it.
But the story points out the concerning flaw in the Olympic system: How do the athletes move on?
IT IS not only the financial burden.
During the current Olympics, US Olympic gymnast and medalist Simone Biles stepped out of the race, citing the need to care for her own mental health. It’s understandable; with so much pressure on her to be the most successful and capable gymnast at all times, she must feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.
This is felt everywhere in the Olympics. The best athletes in each sport are brought together from around the world, and their mission is to show that they are the best in the world. That kind of pressure is intense for any one person to handle.
“You reach the most important day of your life,” Levy explained. “I trained my whole life for this moment. To reach that peak, the most important day of my life, and to leave without feeling satisfied, it is a very difficult mental state. I got back to the village, I called my mom, and I’m not the kind of person who cries, but I couldn’t get a full word out of my mouth, I was sobbing so hard.”
“The job of the trainer is to bring about success, not to strengthen the athlete mentally, but on the other hand, this mental health is necessary,” Zubari said.
Regarding Biles, he said, “I think she stepped out because these medals don’t do any good for her if she’s not enjoying and not gaining from it personally. The other athletes are left with their experiences on top of their successes and with everything their sport gave them throughout their career.”
“Simone Biles, what she did brought about awareness,” Levy said. “She’s very brave with what she did. She will be remembered in history; she’s incredible.”
Levy explained that “you can’t get to the Olympics without massive pressure. In my last fight, I got on the mat, and I had massive pressure, knowing that if I lose this, it’s all over. When you get to the biggest sports stage in the world, you can’t do it without pressure. I’m sure Biles got there with a whole different pressure because of the international recognition she got.”
“The moment you win a medal and you’re in the public eye – it depends on the accomplishment and the sport – so suddenly the expectations of your surroundings grow, and that’s very difficult,” Zubari said.
“There’s a trainer, a psychologist, so many people that can change your rhythm. There’s this fear that you’ll stop and be forgotten.
“With Simone Biles, she was in the spotlight when she stepped out, and everyone was talking about it. If she made the decision to step out for her own good and to take care of herself, I think that’s saying something to the broader public.”
He explained that listening to your body – mentally and physically – is crucial to the sport.
“The thing that stayed with me the most is to listen to my gut and to make decisions that aren’t necessarily the decisions everyone would go to.
“I would take advice from the professional surroundings, they would agree with me, and that would turn on a red light. It would tell me that something’s wrong. If everyone agrees, it’s too normal, and I need something extra.
“When people would disagree with me, we would get into an argument, and I would be sure of myself; I would go with it all the way.
“It didn’t always work, but when it did, I felt so satisfied because I knew that I took my own path. I proved that that’s how it was supposed to be done.”
DESPITE ALL of these difficulties, Olympians continue to be Olympians. They continue to come and do what they do, despite all of the trials, and it comes solely from that passion.
“Since a very young age, this was my dream,” Levy confided. “The goal was to come back with an Olympic medal. I knew that I’m capable of getting to this level, if it’s what I really want.”
Zubari, too, saw himself as a disciplined person with a love for his sport.
“If you’re true to yourself and you want to achieve your dreams – I, at least, until late stages, didn’t see it as a sacrifice,” he said. “I didn’t make a sacrifice. I woke up every morning and did what I love; and every day when I went to sleep, I was satisfied with myself.”
As the famous saying goes, “Choose a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
But for Olympians, the cost for this is high.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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