Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko showed why she will be one of Israel’s best hopes for an individual medal in Rio when she won silver at last month’s European Athletic Championships in Amsterdam, in doing so becoming only the second Israeli – and first female – to claim a medal at the tournament.
One of eight athletes in the track and field squad, the Ukrainian-born 26-year-old triple jumper has represented Israel since 2013, and claimed her best jump of the season – 14.51 metres – to seal her historic win. A silver medallist at last year’s World Championships in Beijing, together with bronze wins at the European Games and European Indoor Championships, she also claimed a fourth place finish in London four years ago. She says: “I’m a proud Israeli citizen. The silver medal in Amsterdam made me really happy and gave me a lot of confidence. I really wanted to hear the Hatikvah national anthem, but maybe there is an advantage to finishing in second place as that means I won’t be able to relax ahead of Rio.”
American-born Donald Sanford will be hoping for better luck than he got in London four years ago when his shoes were stolen from his bag just ahead of his 400m qualifying heat, meaning he had to run in a teammate’s trainers. Only being confirmed of his place in Rio in March, he says he’s “hopeful it will go well” this time around, and that he can help can Israeli youth interested in taking up sport. “In America it’s 100 percent sports from the start. In middle school and high school it’s part of the curriculum to graduate. In Israel it’s not as essential,” he said. “I try to be an example as much as I can. It’s good for the kids to see it, also in judo, gymnastics and other sports.”
Kenyan-born Lonah Chemtai had a tough ride in getting to represent Israel after the Interior Ministry rejected her status as an Israeli athlete. First arriving in Israel eight years ago, her status was rejected for years, and it was only the last minute intervention of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri which finally saw her assured of her place. Nevertheless, happy to finally be competing for her new country, she said: “I’m ready for it. It’s my first Olympics, and I’m proud to represent Israel.” Maor Tiyouri joins her in the female marathon event, with Ageze Guadie, Tesama Moogas and Marhu Teferi taking part in the men’s event. Dmitry Kroytor’s competing in the men’s high jump.
Delila Hatuel is the country’s sole fencer at the Games. Taking part in the women’s foil, she’s currently ranked ninth in the world and finished in 19th place at the Beijing Games in 2008. Born in Acre, she won gold at the Maccabiah Games in 2009. Ron Attias will be Israel’s first ever male fighter in the taekwondo event. Fighting in the U58kg category, he qualified for the Games after winning gold at a qualification tournament in Turkey back in January. A silver medal winner in the European Taekwondo championships as a teenager, on qualifying, he said: “I want to say many thanks to everyone who has supported and believed in me, there is no better feeling than this.”
With triathlon only introduced into the Games in 2000, Ron Darmon will become the first Israeli to compete in the event, having reached 52 in the rankings. Comprising of a 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run, he said: “When I started triathlon, I struggled to even put my feet in the shallow end of the pool, now I’ll be ‘diving’ in the deep water at the Olympic Games as one of the top triathletes in the world!” Israel will have a weightlifter at the Games for the first time in 20 years.
was only added to the delegation when the Israel Weightlifting Federation was handed a last-minute wild-card following the suspensions handed out to Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus for anti-doping violations. Finishing the European Championships in 12th place, he finished last year’s World Championships in 21st place.