EARLIER this year, Israel’s team of nine athletes who qualified for the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships were not even sure they’d be able to dive into the pool, let alone win any medals.
Malaysia was due to host the event in July, but was banned from doing so by the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) when Malaysia announced it would refuse to let Israelis participate.
IPC president Andrew Parsons said at the time “when a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new championships host”.
When the tournament was finally held in London from September 9-15, as arranged by the IPC, the Israelis let their swimming do the talking, bagging a four-medal haul to finish 21st, while Malaysia could only manage one bronze to come equal 34th.
The shining light for Israel was 19-year-old Mark Malyar, who not only won gold in the men’s 400m freestyle S7 final ahead of Ukraine’s Andrii Trusov (second) and Argentine Iraki Basiloff (third), but posted a world record time of 4:33.64 in the process.
He smashed Englishman Josef Craig’s previous record set at the 2012 Paralympic Games by six seconds.
The significance of what Malyar achieved did not sink in at first, but he sported a beaming smile during the medal presentation, when Hatikvah was played.
Malyar also won a silver medal in the men’s 200 individual medley SM7 final, and almost won bronze in the men’s 100 breaststroke SB6 final, finishing fourth, just 0.3 of a second behind China’s Hong Yang.
Ami Dadaon earned two more medals for Israel – coming second in the men’s 150m individual medley SM4 final, and third in the men’s 200 freestyle S4 final.
Australia also shone in London, coming 17th overall with 2 gold, 7 silver and 14 bronze.
North Sydney’s Matthew Levy, 32, was a member of the bronze medal winning Australian men’s 4×100 freestyle [34-points format] relay team that finished just 0.96 seconds shy of silver medallists Ukraine, in a final won by Italy.
In a poolside interview with his teammates, Levy said “I don’t know who I was versing, but I could feel all the power [by swimmers] on either side of me, so it was great that we got the job done”.
Levy also broke a 19-year Oceania record in the men’s 400 freestyle S7 final with a time of 4:48.82 to place 6th, and toppled a second Oceania record in the men’s 100 breaststroke SB6 final [1:27.55] to finish seventh.
And he came came fifth in the men’s 200 individual medley SM7 final, fifth in the men’s 100 free S7 final, and fourth as part of the Australian men’s 4×100 medley relay team, swimming the freestyle leg.
Later, Levy tweeted “it was amazing to stand on the blocks for my seventh world championships”.
“I’m always proud to represent my country.”