“The Olympics are a difficult task. We’re crossing our fingers for you”
The swimmers met with Major General Amir Eshel
Will compete in the London Olympic Games Eight Israeli swimmers will fly to the Olympics in hopes of bringing back gold. Two of them–a quarter of the delegation–are IAF soldiers: Private Yaakov Tomarkin and Corporal Imri Ganiel
Itay Itamar and Yuval Tsuk | Photography: Yonatan Zalk
From a young age, Private Yaakov Tomarkin and Corporal Imri Ganiel were brought up with a well-known IAF phrase: The sky is not the limit. For years they have been training for this day, and this week they will attempt to prove themselves in the moment of truth: The 2012 London Olympics.
A moment before takeoff, the IAF swimmers met with Commander of the IAF. Major General Eshel has taken a great interest in the two’s careers, in their long-term plans and in integrating swimming with military service. “I understand that it’s not an easy combination, but the fact that you are wearing the uniform is a statement”, said Major General Eshel,”We’re very proud of you. The Olympics are a difficult feat; we’re crossing our fingers for you”.
Tomarkin, a 20-year-old from Ashdod, earned his ticket to the Olympics in the World Championship in Shanghai, breaking the Israeli record in the 200-meter backstroke. Between morning practice to the evening one, Tomarkin finds time to put on the uniform and serve in an administration squadron at the “Sde Dov” airbase. “My commander is very supportive of me and allows me to train fully”, admits Tomarkin, who dives into the water over ten times a week. “It was important to me to complete a full service just like everyone else; it is a kind of sending. I represent my country as well as the IDF in front of my competitors around the world, and prove that as a soldier you can reach high levels and succeed”.
Corporal Imri Ganiel, who is a month older than Tomarkin, promised his spot on the Olympic team last minute, in the European Championship in Hungary that was held in May. In his case, it is a family business: his father is Amir Ganiel, former Israeli Swimming Champion and member of the national team, who was supposed to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics but missed it as a result of the Western boycott. His son will fulfill the dream next month in London. “As someone who foresees the physical and mental stresses of an athlete, I feel very proud of Imri”, says father Amir. “He may have had a tough two years, but no doubt he has demonstrated tenacity and we are, of course, elated about his participation in the Olympics”.
Both from the Same Book
These are the second Olympic Games in a row in which a southern swimmer represents Israel–as a matter of fact, this is the second time in which a competitor hails specifically from the “Omer” settlement near Be’er Sheva. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics it was Guy Barnea, and now Imri Ganiel. What is the secret of their success? “Guy and Imri are completely different from one another”, says Adi Wolfman, who coached them both along the way. “Each of them has his own strengths, which together with physical characteristics and immense talent brought them both to the Olympics”.