Despite the political chaos and rocket fire currently tearing up the Gaza region, Israel’s top swimmers are taking to the pool for the country’s national championships this week.
The national championships are taking place at the Wingate Institute, a national sports institute in the northern part of Israel, away from the flying rockets of the south.
Still, many swimmers from southern Israel have been displaced from their training environments, and even more importantly have family currently in harms way – a difficult environment in which to foster fast swimming.
The Jerusalem Post has a great look at the unique challenges facing Israel’s top swimmers, including Olympian Yakov Toumarkin, a returning bronze medalist at the European Championships.
Toumarkin was at one point committed to the USC Trojans, but hasn’t appeared in the NCAA yet. The Jerusalem Post reports that Toumarkin often trains near his home in Ashdod, an area now unsafe due to rocket fire.
The Post talks to another Israeli bronze medalist, backstroker Guy Barnea, who says he has family in the disrupted area. He admits, the strain of keeping up on the news and the worry about family members’ safety is a strain on a swimmer’s focus.
“To put all of that aside and focus on competing isn’t the most normal situation, but it is something which all Israelis have to cope with,” Barnea says in the story.
Besides the obvious backdrop of armed conflict, the environment of these national championships is somewhat further lessened as most of the country’s top athletes are using it mainly as a last tune-up before the European Championships in a few weeks in Berlin.
Backstroker Jonatan Kopelev is back for the Israeli’s after winning the nation’s first European Champs gold medal in 2012 in the 100 back.
The Israeli Championships began on Tuesday, and will run through Saturday. So far a number of age group records have been broken, though one of the bigger swims has been from Barnea, who won the 50 back with a 25.12. Texas Longhorn Imri Ganiel broke the meet record in the 100 breast at 1:01.34. That’s just a few tenths off his own national record from the last European Championships.