Israeli gymnastics coach says politics worked against team
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Israeli gymnastics coach says politics worked against team

As Rio Olympics conclude, Ira Vigdorchik laments poor treatment, training conditions for sixth-place rhythmic squad that had been Israel’s best hope for gold

Israel's team compete in the group all-around final event of the Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, August 21, 2016. (AFP/Thomas COEX)
Israel's team compete in the group all-around final event of the Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, August 21, 2016. (AFP/Thomas COEX)

After Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team finished sixth at the Rio Olympic games on Sunday, the squad’s coach said that politics, poor representation in the sport’s governing body, and sub-standard training conditions stacked the odds against winning a medal.

After two rounds of ribbon-twirling and club- and hoop-tossing, the team finished with a total score of 34.549, well behind gold-medalist Russia which garnered 36.233 points. Spain and Bulgaria tied for the silver with 35.766.

The team, which won a gold in the hoops and clubs discipline at the European Championships in June, had been considered Israel’s best hope for gold at the games.

Coach Ira Vigdorchik said the team had more to contend with than just putting on a winning performance.

Ira Vigdorchik., Israel's rhythmic gymnastics team coach for the Rio Olympic games. (HOT/YouTube)
Ira Vigdorchik., Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team coach for the Rio Olympic games. (HOT/YouTube)

“I never expected to win a medal,” she told Channel 2. “Even if we were to do it without any mistakes there is no chance to bring back a medal from the Olympic Games.”

“There is a situation that happens only at the Olympics,” she explained. “In every other competition the contest begins with every country bringing a judge, including us.”

“As soon as all of the countries have a judge there is a neutralization of subjectivity, but as soon as we come to the Olympics and we don’t have a representative we have a problem. Spain has a judge in the International Gymnastics Federation, Bulgaria has a judge, Japan has a judge. These are strong countries and we have no way to deal with it.”

Vigdorchik made headlines before the Olympics amid reports that members of the team complained of her harsh training regime and that on one occasion she allegedly kicked a gymnast.

Speaking to Channel 10, she said that the Israeli team was separated from the other competitors in the hours before the Olympic event and were left to practice in a hot and damp tent while their rivals were given access to more suitable facilities.

In an apparent snipe at the resources available to the team in Israel, she said the conditions were no better that at the Wingate Institute, south of Rehovot, where they trained in the run up to the Olympics.

“Thank you to the Wingate Institute that prepared us for sub-conditions. It was damp here like there. We trained in a wet tent for two hours, while all the other teams who finished above us trained here,” she said referring to the main gymnastics location at the Olympics.

Despite not winning a medal, team captain Ilana Koshbetzki was enthusiastic about the five-member squad’s performance.

“We will never forget this experience,” she told the Hebrew-language Walla news site. “I am very proud of everything we did over the years, and especially here in Rio. We reached a great moment that we waited for for a long time. We did everything that we could. What happened, it seems, was what was supposed to happen.”

Vigdorchik, whose contract as coach ended with the conclusion of the Rio Olympics, said that if asked to continue as coach, she would consider it.

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