The Israeli swimmers at an international championship last week didn’t take home any gold, silver or bronze — but they made history with blue and white.
For the first time, swimmers from the Jewish state competed in the World Short Course Swimming Championship, held in Dubai, and for the first time the Israeli flag hung poolside in the Arab country.
And, though they finished outside of the medals, Israeli swimmers swam well, by Israeli standards, setting several national records.
One of the record-setters was Gal Nevo, above, who established a new Israeli record in the 400-meter medley. Nevo, a 2008 Olympian who swam for Arizona State University and Georgia Tech and was twice an All-American, finished seventh in the medley finals. He also set a new Israeli record in the 200-meter butterfly.
“We are breaking Israeli records, and the atmosphere here is good,” he told Israel’s Army Radio. He said he felt “lucky as an athlete being here, because the average Israeli guy probably wouldn’t visit here.”
According to Haaretz, the Israelis’ visas were granted following pressure by the International Olympic Committee and the FINA swimming federation. The Israelis’ passports were not stamped at the airport. Israeli journalists, like the athletes themselves, had problems getting visas.
In Dubai, the Israeli swimmers stayed at a separate hotel from the other competitors and were accompanied by a large security detail.
Israel was among 148 countries that sent some 800 swimmers to the competition, which took place at the newly opened Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex.
“We told the swimmers that after we went the distance to get here, they had to work hard and deliver the goods,” Noam Zvi, chairman of Israel’s swimming federation, told Haaretz.
“Once we got here, everything was good,” Nevo told the Associated Press. “[They’re] taking good care of us.”
“There was never any intention to keep the Israel team away,” a Dubai source was quoted as saying by israelnationalnews.com. “They were granted their visas a matter of hours later than had originally been expected. This is not about politics but sport, and the Israel swimmers are welcome guests.”