Windsurfer Korzits waves flag for Israel in London
MICHMORET, Israel (Reuters) - Women's RS:X windsurfing world champion Lee Korzits is relying on her affinity with the waves to help her to an Olympic podium place in London, but the Israeli knows the unpredictability of her competitors could cost her more than a medal.
Korzits, Israel's main medal hope at the 2012 Games, almost drowned twice after being hit by rivals and the accidents convinced her people were more of a threat than the elements.
"Nature is stronger than all of us," the 28-year-old told Reuters. "Many people don't know how to feel nature's movement as I can and sometimes they make mistakes.
"I also make mistakes but I have learned from them ... I'm more scared of people in the sea than of nature, I have to fit in with nature."
In Hawaii, Korzits had to be pulled to safety after another surfer crashed into her from behind, cracking two of her ribs and fracturing a bone in her leg.
At the 2010 European championships in Poland, Korzits was knocked off her board by a fellow competitor and was trapped under the waves. She lost consciousness and had to be rescued by a nearby motorboat.
Korzits's coach Ben Finkelstein said her most important asset was her knowledge of the sea and her ability to predict wind and wave patterns, enhancing her control of the sailboard.
"She knows the sea well and can't live without it," he added. "She can sense the direction of the waves and currents and she will know how to take advantage and be fastest on the water by shifting her weight at just the right time."
The three-times world champion said she was ready to carry Israel's medal hopes at the sailing regatta in Weymouth on England's south coast in July and August.
Israel has won three Olympic windsurfing medals - Gal Fridman won bronze in Atlanta and gold in Athens while Shahar Tzuberi won bronze at the Beijing Games.
Israel first participated in the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952 but had to wait 40 years for a first medal when judoka Yael Arad won silver in Barcelona.
With windsurfing set to be replaced by kite surfing at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janiero in four years' time London could represent the last chance for Israel to claim another gold in the event.
Finkelstein said the decision by world sailing's governing body (ISAF) to replace windsurfing was something they were not focusing on for the moment.
"Lee is totally focused on the upcoming Olympics so we are not taking too much note of the decision, which will only affect the sport in four years' time, but clearly we will have to address the issue later," he said.
Korzits expected tough competition from the usual rivals, including Zofia Noceti-klepaca of Poland, Marina Alabau of Spain and Britain's Bryony Shaw.
"I go to the Olympics as a favorite and I am training really hard to be good and to keep at the top, but I can't be sure that I will win a medal, although I can promise that I will work hard and I will try my best," she said.
"I'll soak up the energy from all the people who want me to win ... but I hope they will understand if I don't win and will realize that I did my best."
Korzits, who finished third in the "Sail for Gold" regatta in Weymouth last year, has been training for all types of conditions at the Olympics.
"The wind is really good over there but it's quite cold so it's really hard as I'm from Israel, a warm country," she added.
"But we are working to fit in with all the conditions, not only in the strong wind, which is my specialty."
Finkelstein said he was hoping the windy conditions that are more prevalent in Weymouth would give his charge an advantage, although a big part of her preparations have been to be competitive also in light winds.
"The weather is unpredictable, one day we could have strong winds and the next a light breeze. Most of the time there are strong winds over there but we can't be sure and we are preparing even for a week of light wind," he added.
The vivacious, straight-talking Israeli won her first world championship in Cadiz, Spain in 2003 and went to the Athens Games the following year expecting to fulfill her nation's hopes, but finished down the field in 13th position.
She did not qualify for Beijing in 2008 but following back-to-back world titles in 2011-12 she feels ready to deliver.
"The second time at the Olympics is the real race, because the first time it's overwhelming, with so many people around that are never there at other events, and there is so much interest from the media," she said.
"I think I have learned a lot, I now have eight-nine years of experience, I'm more mature and I'll use that experience now."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)