Israel’s Paralympians harbor high hopes for London gold

Sailor Dror Cohen aims to repeat his team’s ’08 gold medal performance

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

With Israel’s Olympic delegation now back in the country, the country’s medal hopes have turned to its Paralympic team, which flies to London on Wednesday, two weeks before the start of the games.

“We have a lot of spirit. We will do our best and try to return with the gold medal,” sailor Dror Cohen told Army Radio Wednesday. Cohen and his two sailing partners won gold at the games in 2008 in Beijing, and hope to repeat their achievement.

Hand-cyclist Nati Gruberg, who cited cyclist Lance Armstrong as his inspiration, said that making the competition was an achievement. After being injured in a motorcycle accident and spending two years in the hospital, Gruberg was ranked seventh in the world in hand-cycling.

The cyclist said he “was very proud to represent Israel,” especially since there were “no regular people” who cycled for the country at the Summer Games. “I will try to get the honors for everybody.”

On Tuesday team members met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wished them luck in the upcoming competition. Netanyahu told the athletes the two months with a cast on his leg helped him understand the difficulties of a physical handicap “just a little bit more.”

He couldn’t imagine the willpower and prowess they constantly had to call upon, he said, after he was forced to think twice about showering with his broken leg.

The Israeli delegation consists of 25 people, seven of them women, who are set to compete in nine sporting disciplines: sailing, wheelchair-tennis, sharpshooting, marathon, hand-cycling, table-tennis, swimming, riding and rowing.

Sharpshooter Doron Shaziri is one of the team’s more decorated members with six Paralympic medals.This summer he hopes to win his first Olympic gold. “It’s coincidence that I haven’t won gold at the Olympics yet,” he told the Israeli sporting site One. The same competitors attend every international competition, he said, noting that he won gold at the European and World championships.

The Ramat Gan resident was injured by a landmine at the age of 20 and had his leg amputated below the knee. Since then, Shaziri has won the European and World Championships, as well as multiple international medals.

At the ’96 Games in Atlanta he won two silver medals and in the following two Olympics he added three bronze and another silver to his shelf. “It’s a question of timing,” Shaziri said, of winning the ultimate prize. “You have to bring yourself to the peak at the right moment, and that’s what I’ve been training for.”

“You do amazing things and you act as role models,” Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat told the delegation. Livnat said her office was trying to increase its support of the Paralympic team, as Israel tries to bridge the gap between the able-bodied and disabled in all fields of life.

Because there are different levels of disabilities present at the game, the competition is divided into subcategories, determined by the severity of impairment the athlete has.

The 2012 London Paralympics will be the 14th time the Games are held. They will open on August 29 and close on September 9. Seats for the sporting events were already sold out, the Daily Mail reported on Tuesday.

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