Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team are considered to be one of Israel’s main hopes for a medal in Rio, but the squad goes into the Games on the back of controversy surrounding their coach.
Ira Vigdorchik will continue in her role as the coach of the team, but will no longer personally guide the squad, an Israel Gymnastics Association committee ruled earlier this week.
The committee looked into Vigdorchik’s conduct and allegations that she kicked one of the squad’s gymnasts, Ekaterina Levina, during training ahead of the World Cup event in Russia. While she denied the accusations, the IGA also received a letter by the gymnasts’ parents, claiming the incident was only the tip of the iceberg. According to the letter, Vigdorchik repeatedly abused the gymnasts, both verbally and physically, and drinks alcohol during training and competitions. Despite the allegations, the IGA’s committee decided Vigdorchik will continue to be in charge of the team’s preparations for the Games, while coaches Ela Samofalov, Raya Irgo and choreographer Ayelet Zysman will be the ones who physically coach the gymnasts in the gym.
Hopefully not causing too much disruption, the five girls – Yuval Filo, Alona Koshevatskiy, Levina, Karina Lykhvar and Ida Mayrin won three medals at last year’s European Championships and gold, silver and bronze medals at last month’s European Championships in Holon. Captain Koshevatskiy said: “We are so proud. We really enjoyed performing here, the crowd was amazing. It’s a realistic target to win a medal in Rio.”
Neta Rivkin will be taking part in the individual competition, for what will be the 25-year-old’s third Games. Israel’s most successful rhythmic gymnast, the two-time Olympian won silver at the 2011 European Championships and bronze at that year’s World Championships. She was a silver medallist at the 2014 Grand Prix Final and bronze winner at last year’s European Games in Baku.
Also being selected to be the flag bearer at the opening ceremony, she said: “When I was told I would be holding the flag, I felt I was fulfilling another personal dream. I along, with all the other athletes promise that we will all do our very best. We all want to bring moments of joy to the Israeli people.”
Alex Shatilov will also be competing in his third Games. Claiming the best ever achievement in artistic gymnastics for an Israeli gymnast in the floor final in Beijing in 2008, he reached the final four years ago in London and will have his sights on the reaching the podium this time around. Having become the first Israeli to win a medal at both the European Artistic Championships and World Artistic Championships, he rounded off his preparations for next month by winning gold in the floor final at the World Challenge Cup competition in Anadia, Portugal. The 29-year-old said:
“Winning a gold medal is always pleasing. This is my final competition before Rio so this gives me confidence.”
Israel’s first woman to qualify for the wrestling event is Ilana Kratysh, who will be competing in the 69kg event.
Born one hour after her parents arrived in Israel from Russia, she comes from a family of judokas – her father trained the national judo team when he lived in Russia, while he brother fought for 20 years. Suffering a minor injury when serving in the IDF, she turned her attention to wrestling and has claimed silver medals at three European Championships and at last year’s European Games. She said: “I’ve been waiting all my life for this [appearing at an Olympic Games]. It’s exciting to be the first female in wrestling, I want people to know the sport more in Israel and give hope to the next generation.”
Hoping to inspire younger female athletes, she said: “I know I’m already being a role model for lots of young girls, I want to continue to be an example.”
Having become Israel’s first badminton player at an Olympic Games in 2012, Misha Zilberman is from a family of sportsmen. Born in Moscow, his father was a Soviet gymnast, while his mother, who began playing badminton aged 12, is now his personal coach, who he teamed up with in the mixed doubles at the senior Israeli championships when he was 16. A winner of four gold Maccabiah medals and a 22-times national champion, he’s also won gold, silver and bronze medals at international tournaments and will be looking to better his 33rd place finish at London. When asked what spurred him on and how he’d encourage youngsters to get involved in sport, he said: “Success is driven not only by the wins but often through failures and that is what should keep you going, getting better, trying harder and most of all enjoying your game.”