Israeli Olympic windsurfer Lee Korzits was her country’s last hope in the London games, in which not one member of the team had managed to earn a medal. Korzits had won two straight World Championships. Indeed, she stayed in the top three spots of the windsurfing event in Weymouth for the first seven days, only to slip in the end to the sixth-place overall finish in the women’s competition at London 2012 on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Korzits told Israeli reporters that she doesn’t feel the pressure, and that unlike her rival in the competition, “I enjoy the pressure and I’m not sure they do so much.”
Then, referring to the possibility that she could be the second Israeli woman athlete to bring home an Olympic medal, Korzits confessed: The truth is I really want it. Keep your fingers crossed for me in Israel (the Hebrew term is more like ‘hold your fingers for me,’ same meaning), go to shul, say Shma Israel, pray for me Maariv, Shachrit, whatever it takes.”
She told another Israeli reporter about her plans (Ynet has since taken down the page, but the website BeHadrei Haredim kept the text): “I get on the surfboard, say ‘Shma Israel, Hashem Elokeino Hashem Echad’ and I go to war.”
Had she won the medal, the home press probably would have forgiven Korzits those unusual expressions of religious fervor. But she lost, and so, on top of her heartbreak at having failed to live up to her own expectations, she became a popular target for any hack with an anti-religious agenda.
Amir Peleg at Ynet was plain mean: “Lee said that on the day before the competition she was saying Tehilim and asked the public in Israel to pray for her. I don’t know if while she was praying, her opponents weren’t watching tapes or working out in the gym. What’s certain is that the prayer strategy did not prove itself. Some count on Tehilim against incoming rockets (certainly not the inventors of Iron Dome), but against gifted windsurfers it absolutely fails, even if the others are goyim… Korzits counted too much both on the wind (which was low on Tuesday) and on spirituality (Ruach v’Ruchniut).”
And former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid was even meaner in his Haaretz column: “My heart foretold bad omens when we found out about the need for Si’ata d’Shmaya (Divine help): normally, one must say Tehilim and call out ‘Shma Israel’ before a final chance after which there are no more chances. That’s when we understood where the wind was blowing, when it suddenly changed directions and became a holy spirit (same play on wind and spirit as before – easy pickin’ when you gang up on a windsurfer…).”
And Sarid concluded: “This is what happens when we have nothing left to count on except on our Father in Heaven, when we’re out of options down in the water… And those chances are further reduced when poor Lee must carry on her surfboard and entire nation.”
Finally, Uriel Daskal, sports editor for the Kalkalist finance magazine, told IDF radio: “The state of Israel is sick, both emotionally and physically. The state prefers to invest in kolels and Torah studies (than in sports). In the end it hurts all of us.”
In April 2009, while surfing in Hawaii, Lee Korzits was severely injured after being hit by another surfer. The surfboard rammed into her back, breaking two ribs. At first the Doctors thought the damage to her spine was irreversible, and told her they doubted she would be able to compete professionally. But in Israel Lee underwent rehabilitation and made a full recovery. She returned to sailing in 2010, claiming that the injury had motivated her to do what she loves most. In the summer of 2011, she won a silver medal at the European Championship, her first medal in a major competition since her world title in 2003. Her success continued at the 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, winning her second world title. By winning the world title she made history once again, becoming the first Israeli, male or female, to win two world titles at any sport. A few months later she added her third world title at the 2012 RS:X World Championships.