The opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics is exactly one year away. If this feels surprisingly near, it’s because the Covid-delayed 2020 Games were only two years ago.
Strictly speaking, Israel’s involvement at the 2024 Olympics is going to start before July 26 as the football (soccer) competition kicks off early ahead of the opening ceremony.
Before the 2020 Olympics, Israel hadn’t sent a team in a ball sport to the Games since 1976. Baseball broke the drought at Tokyo and now Israel is sending a team to the Olympics men’s football tournament for just the third time.
To be one of three European teams joining host France in the 16-team tournament was incredibly difficult. First, they had to defeat Ireland in a penalty shootout just to qualify for the 2023 U-21 European championships, then they had to finish top 2 in a group containing Germany, England and Czech Republic and then they had to defeat hosts Georgia in a penalty shootout with 44,000 Georgians cheering against them.
Given this improbable summer of Israeli soccer, who is going to say a medal is unrealistic?
The Olympics is a U-23 tournament with each of the 16 teams allowed to play three overage players. Choosing those three won’t be simple as players such as Daniel Peretz, Omri Gandelman and Eden Kartsev, who were instrumental in getting Israel to the Olympics, will be over 23 by the time the Games start.
Israel sent a record 90 athletes in 15 sports to Tokyo. This was inflated by baseball with its squad of 24, which will be partly offset by the 18-man football squad,
Marathon, gymnastics, swimming, judo
In terms of other athletes already qualified, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter is there for the women’s marathon as are three men yet to be determined.
Chemtai Sapleter was one of the favorites for Tokyo and was at the front with just four kilometers to go. Unfortunately, she was hit by cramps and finished 66th. Her form recently has been good, finishing second at New York and third at Boston. The World Championships are coming up in August and will be a good sign of where her form is at.
The rhythmic gymnastic team qualified by virtue of their second place at the 2022 World Championships. Three swimmers (Tomer Frankel, Denis Loktev and Anastasia Gorbenko) have all already secured their spot.
Judo is Israel’s most successful Olympic sport, accounting for six of the 13 Olympic medals Israel has won. The squad will feature the likes of world champion Inbar Lanir and No. 1 ranked judoka Raz Hershko.
Israel is still looking for its first gold medal in the sport and hasn’t won silver since current Israel Olympic Committee Chair Yael Arad won Israel’s first Olympic medal in 1992.
In terms of other combat sports, Avishag Semberg won Israel’s first medal of the Tokyo Olympics when she claimed bronze in taekwondo. Since then the team has improved significantly. It didn’t win a medal at the most recent World Championships, but Dana Azran won silver at the 2022 edition.
Israel won two gold medals at the last Olympics in gymnastics. Linoy Ashram has retired but Artem Dolgopyat should be back to defend his gold medal.
Sailing is Israel’s second most successful Olympic sport, with three medals including Israel’s very first gold medal won by Gal Friedman in 2004. Israel hasn’t won an Olympic medal in sailing since 2008 and just missed out by the narrowest of margins in Tokyo with Yoav Cohen just one point behind a bronze medal.
Israel hasn’t sent a fencer to the Games since 2008 but this looks like it’s set to change with Israel having strung together some remarkable results since the last Olympics. Fourteen-year-old Gili Kuritzky won bronze at the 2023 European Games and the men’s epee team won silver at the 2022 European Championships.
Another sport which has come along is archery. At the last minute, Itay Shanny qualified for Tokyo and became Israel’s first Olympic archer. He made it to the round of 16. It looks like the team will send up to three archers depending on how qualifying plays out.
On the track, Blessing Afrifah is the reigning U-20 200m champion as well as U-23 European champion. His best time of 19.96 would have seen him finish fifth at the Tokyo Olympics, so making the final is certainly possible.
Triathlete Shachar Sagiv just won a silver medal at the European Games. He finished 20th at the last Olympics and with his significant progress in the last three years, cracking the top 10 isn’t out of the question.
In newish sports such as climbing and skateboarding, and in the brand-new sport of breaking (breakdancing), Israel isn’t likely to field a competitor.
But qualifying for the Olympics in any sport is a huge accomplishment and we can’t wait to cheer on Team Israel in Paris.