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Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Celebrity Breakfast" - The Jewish Tribune Western Edition 4/9/2009

By Alisa Bell, JTWE Correspondent

OMRI GEVA: Skeleton Racer
The first few times Omri Geva dove head first down an icy skeleton track, he wasn't sure the sport was for him.

"I didn't know what I was doing, I hit a lot of walls," the 21-year-old Israeli Olympic hopeful told the Jewish Tribune Western Edition in an interview after competing in the America's Cup, an international skeleton race, inLake Placid, NY.

Geva, along with teammate, Aliyah Snyder, a female Israeli skeleton slider, are a first for Israel; they are the first Israeli international skeleton racers.  Both have their sights on competing in the 2010 Olympics.

"It was my dream from the beginning to represent Israel doing this," said Geva, who helped found the Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.  "There is no big winter sports program in Israel, and we are responsible for raising all our own funds," Geva said, adding, "we do not have a full staff of coaches and technicians like some of the bigger teams [and] there is no place to train for skeleton within Israel, so we do all our training away from home."

Skeleton is not for the faint of heart.  Athletes plummet head first down icy tracks, reaching speeds up to 130 km/hour and forces up to 5Gs, without braking or steering mechanisms (steering only through slight shifts in the body).

If it sounds dangerous, it is.

Two years after taking up skeleton, Geva came close to ending his career when he was catapulted off the track and 20 metres through the air, landing head first onto coolant pipes.

"My helmet split in two," said Geva, "It was the scariest moment of my life, I was sure I wasn't going to survive."

Apart from severe burns, cuts and swelling - superficial but painful injuries - the Israeli skeleton racer survived the massive crash and was back on the tracks within months, finishing the season at the Americas Cup in early April.

Geva, determined to represent Israel at the winter Olympics, sees his role as particularly important in view of the international sports arena, whic has again and again discriminated against Israeli athletes.

Omri Geva reaches speeds up to 130 km/hour and forces up to 5Gs.
Last year, for example, Israeli tennis players Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram were denied entry into Dubai, preventing their participation in one of the year's largest tennis tournaments.  Despite warnings by the International Tennis Federation, the same thing happened this year with another Israeli player, Shahar Peer.  In 2003, Saudi and Yemeni tennis players refusted to participate in matches against Israelis.  In the 2004 Athens Olympics, an Iranian Judo athlete said he "would have" refused a match against an Israeli.  In 2008, an Iranian swimmer said he was too sick to swim (in the same heat as an Israeli swimmer).  In Libya's bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they declared all qualified nations, except Israel, would be invited.  In 1974, the Israeli soccer federation was expelled from the Asian Football Confederation because Middle Eastern countries refused to compete against Israel.

"I'm the first to announce I'm Israeli and proud of it," the articulate young athlete told the Jewish Tribune, adding, "representing Israel comes with the additional responsibility of being a representative of the greater Jewish community."