Zinger, the OCI secretary general, says wistfully, "Sports haven't yet reached the place they deserve in Israeli society."
The upshot: From the national sports training centers in Tel Aviv and Natanya to the Israel Tennis Center in Jerusalem to the windsurfing outposts on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, funding for Israeli sports is modest. According to OCI sources, the government's Olympic budget totals roughly $25 million every four years (about $5 million per annum in the three years before the Summer Games and $10 million in the Olympic year). While there is some additional funding from various federations, Israel's per capita investment in sports pales in comparison with that of other Western countries. Denmark has a smaller population than Israel but, according to Zinger, invests six times as much in its athletes. Israeli sharpshooter Sergey Richter even took to the Internet to raise money, Kickstarter-style, to subsidize his training.
Still, Israel sent one of its largest delegations to London: 37 athletes (19 men and 18 women). Zinger has a cellphone that rings to the chimes of Abba's The Winner Takes It All. And he is unapologetically ambitious. Israel has won at least one medal at every Olympics since Barcelona, and the streak had better not be broken. "It's about time a female athlete won a medal," Zinger says. "Oh, and I'd like us to win a medal in a new sport, like taekwondo."
But aside from winning medals, at least some Israeli athletes have an additional objective. "Know what would be nice?" says Kliger. "I wish we could go and just have the normal Olympic experience. Nothing political, nothing special, no protests, no ceremonies. Just athletes competing."