Noad Lahat and Bat El Geterer are known by a broad public throughout the world due to their achievements in international sports competitions, and are today considered veteran athletes. Lahat, a 27-year-old from Alfei Menasheh in Samaria, won a gold metal in the Jiu Jitsu World Championship held in California in 2010. Geterer, aged 23, grew up in Kochav Yaacov, and is today a Taekwondo European Champion.
Lahat began his career at the age of 6. When he was drafted into the IDF he refused an exemption from service, as other Israeli athletes do, since he wanted to serve in a combat unit. He joined the Paratroopers, and returned to his sports career after three years of army service. During a trip to Brazil he became acquainted with the Brazilian version of Jiu Jitsu, a fairly common sport there. After years of grueling training, Noad won five matches in California and received a gold medal. “For this I worked so hard”, he said, as he descended from the podium.
Geterer is a young religious woman who lives in Jerusalem. She is a student at Hebrew University, working on a Bachelors degree in physical education and mathematics. She is comparatively young, and yet has succeeded in obtaining several European titles. In 2010, she won the gold medal at the 2010 European Taekwondo Championships in St. Petersburg, the first Israeli to achieve such success there. In 2008 she was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Beijing Olympics, and today is considered a veteran on the Israeli team.
Continuing the tradition Two new young athletes have caught the attention of sports fans in Israel, and there are great expectations for their success in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Shachar Sagi and Yuval Freilich have both seen success internationally, despite their young age. Yuval Freilich, aged 16 from Neve Daniel in the Gush Etzion block, is a young fencer who won the gold medal at the European Championship in Austria last February. Sagi, a 16-year-old who lives in Shaked in Northern Samaria, won a silver medal last November at the Loralux international Judo competition in Luxembourg.
These athletes, like all athletes, experience ups in downs in their careers. During periods of crises, it is important for athletes to be surrounded by supportive people and a positive atmosphere that gives them the strength to continue and compete. This atmosphere can be found in the communities of Judea and Samaria. “It’s great to feel the support, its great to feel that you are a role model for others. Truly, for better or for worse, I have never heard a negative word about me here. They have always supported me and told me that for them I will always be a champion, no matter what. For me,” Sagi said, “that is very comforting.”
These athletes all reside in Judea and Samaria. What is special about this area that draws people to live there? “Unlike the big cities of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, here, there is a stronger sense of a community. Things are calmer and quieter. My parents were looking for something small, more tight-knit and religious,” Freilich explained.
Freilich was born in Israel, son of immigrants from Australia. His family returned to Australia for five years, only to return to Israel in 2004. Yuval began to train as a fencer after being watching the sport in the Sydney Olympics. He is the first Israeli to receive a medal as a cadet. How does he cope with such an achievement? “I hope there will be many more Israeli athletes who will receive medals in international competitions. Maybe my accomplishment will encourage others. I am glad. What is important about sports is that if there is any measure of success, you need to set it aside. You need to be focused on what you will do in the future, and not on what you have done in the past” Yuval answerd modestly.
Shachar Sagi’s success in Luxembourg was the most significant for Israeli sportswomen in the past years. She was asked how this achievement affected her. “There are many excellent and accomplished sportswomen in Israel. I am happy I was able to get the points and the medal. It is important for me to point out that the girls give a real fight abroad.”
With all the training and schooling, the young athletes still find time for communal service and volunteer work. Yuval volunteers at his school, participates in the distribution of food baskets to the elderly and assists younger pupils. Sagi assists in training younger athletes twice a week.
Where does she find the strength after all her other occupations? “I come home and collapse. I am a counselor at the youth group, help my coach train others, and it gives me a good feeling. I can see where I began. I can steer my apprentices towards things I didn’t do, set them on the proper path, without the mistakes I made. The volunteer work is good for me, even though I have the pressure from school and my training. I contribute in a field I enjoy. If I didn’t want to help I would come only to training and that’s a little self-centered. If I have something to contribute, why not do so. We have 40 trainees at the communal center. It makes me happy to see the place; we used to have only 12 athletes. Suddenly there are many children who have fallen in love with the sport. Today I passed through there, and it was pleasing to see this increased interest.”