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Mother-and-son Israeli badminton players breaking records at World Championships

Svetlana Zilberman, 64, and her son Misha team up for the doubles contest, claiming victory in their first-round match… and the title of the competition’s oldest-ever winner

Israeli mother-and-son pair Svetlana Zilberman (R) and Misha Zilberman hit a return in their mixed doubles event against Malaysian pair Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing on day two of the Badminton World Championships in Tokyo on August 23, 2022. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)
Israeli mother-and-son pair Svetlana Zilberman (R) and Misha Zilberman hit a return in their mixed doubles event against Malaysian pair Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing on day two of the Badminton World Championships in Tokyo on August 23, 2022. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — Mum’s the word for 64-year-old badminton braveheart Svetlana Zilberman as she rolls back the years and breaks records for Israel alongside her son Misha at the world championships in Tokyo.

At 25, Belarus-born Svetlana was considered too old to be picked for the Soviet Union’s team for the championships when she was in the prime of her career.

Now, almost four decades later, she is playing on the sport’s highest stage and became the competition’s oldest-ever winner when she and Misha won their first-round mixed doubles match on Monday.

“They said I was old when I was 25 — now I am a young woman,” Svetlana told AFP on Tuesday.

Svetlana became the oldest player to win a world championship match when she and 33-year-old Misha beat Egypt’s Adham Hatem Elgamal and Doha Hany 16-21, 21-18, 21-11.

The next player on the list is almost 20 years younger and Svetlana says she may even be back to try to update her record at next year’s tournament in Copenhagen.

Israeli mother-and-son pair Svetlana Zilberman (R) and Misha Zilberman leave after their mixed doubles event against Malaysian pair Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing on day two of the Badminton World Championships in Tokyo on August 23, 2022. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

“I’m still not tired from playing, so who knows,” she said after she and Misha bowed out of the championships on Tuesday with a 21-6, 21-5 loss to Malaysian number eight seeds Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing.

The Zilbermans, who both represent Israel, first teamed up as a way for Misha to prepare for his favored men’s singles events.

Svetlana coaches her son and she could not find him a suitable partner so she took on the job herself, first appearing together at the world championships in 2009.

Misha says the arrangement keeps them both in shape and he described their first-round victory in Tokyo as “an amazing feeling.”

“My category is men’s singles and we play mixed doubles just to get the feeling, not focusing on the results,” he said.

“When we can win in mixed, it’s a good feeling and we are very happy.”

Israel’s Misha Zilberman plays against Mark Caljouw from the Netherlands during their men’s singles group play stage badminton match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Misha says their relationship on court is “like any mixed doubles players,” with discussions on how to improve and swing the match in their favor.

Off the court, however, he says “she is my coach, so there is no discussion.”

World number 47 Misha has appeared in men’s singles at the Olympics three times and he finished third at this summer’s European championships in Madrid.

Approaching his mid-30s, he could be forgiven for turning his thoughts towards retirement.

But inspired by his record-breaking mother, he plans to keep playing for the foreseeable future.

“My mum never retired, so you can think that about me also,” he said. “I don’t see myself retiring.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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