Stephen Weizman, AFP
Last updated: 7 August, 2012

Israeli windsurfer’s stormy voyage to Olympic heartache

Alongside the sparkling Mediterranean, far from the English south coast where Israel’s Lee-El Korsiz was chasing Olympic windsurfing glory, a group of young Israelis huddled round a video screen at the sailing club they share, willing her to break the Jewish State’s medal drought.

In a modest wire-fenced compound, alongside a handkerchief-sized harbour, children and young teens gulped down cold drinks under a blazing sun as they waited for pre-regatta favourite Korsiz, twice world champion and the Mikhmoret Sailing Centre’s most celebrated alumnus, to do her stuff.

“Lee Korsiz is a wind surfer who I really admire,” said 12-year-old Yuval Sivan. “It doesn’t make any difference to me that she’s a girl. I want to get to her level.”

Korsiz, 28, had a long and perilous voyage from the sleepy seaside village of Mikhmoret, 39 kilometres (24 miles) north of Tel Aviv, to Tuesday’s medal race at Weymouth.

Roi Bensler, an instructor at the local council run centre where she started her career and has trained ever since, said that she had a near-fatal accident while surfing in Hawaii.

“A wave overturned her and someone slammed into her by mistake,” he told AFP. “She was in intensive care for some days on a respirator. It was bad but she got over it, it’s a comeback from the movies.”

There was another close call during last year’s European championships.

“She fell and the sail fell on tip of her,” Bensler said. “As you can see they’re not small sails.

Media reports said that a French coach saw that she was trapped unconscious underwater, extricated her and resuscitated her.

Young Yuval’s father, Yehuda Sivan, is a friend of the Korsiz family and says he has watched her take on challenge after challenge since childhood.

“She was good at all kinds of sport,’ he said. “She used to knock boys down at judo, she’s a very good surfer, she has extraordinary mental strength.”

She needs it, he says, for her chosen discipline of windsurfing.

“It sounds fun but it’s insanely hard work. Hours on the sea in all waters, in all seas, with no compromises. It’s a sport where you’re alone, it’s not a team competition when you can get a hug from someone, it’s just crazy.”

Bensler said that the beach front video viewing was organised for the club’s younger members, to give them inspiration.

He said that she was a familiar figure to many of them.

“She did a lot of training here, with the gang, with the kids,” he said.

Flags fluttered around the club entrance and the gates were gates were draped with a banner reading “London awaits you Lee”.

When the race began and her rig came into sight on the video screen, its sail emblazoned with Israel’s distinctive blue and white Star of David flag, there was enthusiastic whistling, applause and stamping of feet in the club yard.

But as the minutes passed and it became clear that Korsiz was falling behind, silence fell.

Although she lay second going into the medal race she finished ninth to drop to sixth overall and with her defeat went any realistic hope of an Israeli medal in the 2012 Olympics.

Israeli media said that it would be the first time the Jewish State’s athletes returned from the games without a medal since Seoul in 1988.

The stunned silence was only broken when Mikhmoret-born Amit Inbar, who windsurfed for Israel in the Sydney and Barcelona Olympics asked the kids to give a round of applause for Korsiz’s “tremendous achievement.”

They did so enthusiastically, but then drifted away wordlessly.

“I think it is harder to watch from the sidelines that to actually take part,” Inbar, 39 and now manager of a windsurfing school, told AFP.

“What is Lee doing now? She is crying, what else. Everything she has been building up inside this week will spill out. I was on the verge of tears, I don’t want to imagine what she is going through.”

“In the life of a sportsperson, that’s part of the road you travel,” he added.

“You are formed by your failures or lack of success and I imagine that if she decides to continue the sporting life, the next time that she’s in the same situation she’ll act differently and have more success.”