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Tokyo 2020

Israeli Paralympic kayaker, 54, has sights set on a medal at her fourth Games

Pascale Bercovitch, competing next week at the Tokyo Paralympics, says she is ‘a better athlete at 54 than at 20’

Israeli Paralympic contestant Pascale Bercovitch, 54, next to her kayak as she sets out for training in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on August 4, 2021. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Israeli Paralympic contestant Pascale Bercovitch, 54, next to her kayak as she sets out for training in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on August 4, 2021. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

AFP — Pascale Bercovitch, who calls herself the world’s oldest kayaker, has failed to win a medal at the three previous Paralympic Games, but said she remains hopeful because “she’s a better athlete at 54 than at 20.”

The French-Israeli national rowed for the Jewish state at Beijing 2008, then competed in handcycling at London 2012 and paracanoeing at Rio 2016. She will compete in Tokyo on September 2-4 in the 200-metre paracanoe sprint.

She had both her legs amputated at age 17 following a train accident in France. “I wanted to board the train. The opposite happened,” she told AFP before a training session on Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River.

She won a paracanoe bronze in the 2020 World Cup, and declared her age would not inhibit her from Tokyo success.

“I am the oldest kayaker in the world, but I don’t really look at numbers,” she said, insisting she was “faster and stronger” than she was in her 20s.

Maintaining a level of fitness that surpasses that of her youth requires discipline, said Bercovitch, who has two daughters.

Israeli Paralympic contestant Pascale Bercovitch, 54, crosses a street on her wheelchair in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on August 4, 2021. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

“I don’t eat what I want to eat, I eat what I have to eat. I sleep when I have to sleep. I live a nun’s life,” she said with the smile that seems permanent fixture on her face.

She is known widely in Israel for delivering speeches about her life experiences, but the former journalist said her “passion” for sport is her primary focus.

The postponement of the Games, which kicked off on Tuesday in a ceremony delayed for a year due to the pandemic, demanded an extra level of commitment.

“It’s been another year of maintaining the discipline… There were lockdowns. I was training in my garden,” she said.

She told AFP she can no longer picture herself as not being in a wheelchair and that she sees herself as “super cute.”

Israeli rower Pascale Bercovitch competes in paracanoeing at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. (Keren Isaacson/Israel Paralympic Committee)

“I’m a meter tall, I’m 45 kilos (99 pounds), I’m in a small wheelchair and I go super fast, everywhere, all time — that’s me!” she said.

Israel used to be a Paralympic powerhouse, winning 69 medals at Toronto 1976. But the haul has diminished in recent years — significantly fewer soldiers have been severely wounded in battle than during the initial decades following Israel’s creation in 1948, and the number of other countries competing in the Games has sharply risen.

But Bercovitch and the 33-athlete strong Israeli delegation hope to surpass the three medals won in Rio.

She did not rule out competing in 2024 in Paris, the city where she was born, but for now her focus is exclusively on Tokyo.

“It’s going to be tight, but I’m going to give it my all and hope for good outcome,” she said.

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