Israel has its first Olympic qualifier in women’s figure skating — but officials will not let her compete at the Vancouver Games.
Tamar Katz, the three-time national champion, met the International Skating Union’s standards for Olympic eligibility. But the Olympic Committee of Israel has a rule that says a skater must place among the top 14 at the European championships to earn a trip to the Olympics, the group’s president said. Katz finished 21st at the recent championships in Tallinn, Estonia.
“This issue is not about resources or gender — it’s purely professional,” Efraim Zinger, the secretary general for the Israeli Olympic Committee, said in a telephone interview. “We set the target about two years ahead of time for our athletes. Those who don’t make it must stay back. Some countries’ main goals are to participate, some send their athletes to win. We are interested in our athletes reaching the top.”
Katz, 20, was born in Dallas and practices at Sport-o-Rama in Monsey, N.Y., under her coach, Peter Burrows. Her skating career started in Rockville, Md., and when the family moved back to Israel, they decided to live in Metulla, near Israel’s only regulation ice rink. She moved back to the United States on her own at 15 so she would have access to better coaches, she said.
“If the Israeli Olympic Committee is concerned I’ll place last in the Olympics, they don’t have to worry — even if I don’t skate my best, I can place in the top 20,” Katz said in a telephone interview. “I am not talking about a medal, because it is not just about medals, it is also about representing your country with honor and respect.”
Katz gained Olympic eligibility by finishing seventh at a competition in Oberdorf, Germany, in September.
In explaining the decision not to send Katz to the Vancouver Games, the president of Israel’s Olympic Committee, Zvi Varshaviak, said: “We have internal rules for our athletes. She needed to be in the top 14 at the European championships. She came in 21st, and it’s not good enough.”
Israel will send three athletes to Vancouver: a team of ice dancers and a skier. The country has never won a medal at the Winter Olympics.
“It’s the first time an Israeli woman had the chance to go to the Olympics,” said Boris Chait, president of Israel’s skating federation. “If I said it was a good call, I would be lying, but the rules don’t allow her to compete. I made a personal plea from Tallinn to the I.O.C. I stated my case and appealed, but they did not see it my way.”
Israel sent its first Winter Olympic team to compete in the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Its national Olympic committee has modified its qualification rules over the years. The group has 10 people who decide the requirements for athletes in the Summer and Winter Games.