* Israel gains first Olympic badminton representative
* Parents behind success of Moscow-born player
By Ori Lewis
TEL AVIV, July 26 Of Israel's delegation of 37
Olympic competitors in London, badminton player Misha Zilberman
is one of the least known and under-funded, struggling even to
find someone good enough to play in his home country.
Of the fewer than 500 registered players in Israel,
Moscow-born Zilberman, who took up badminton at age 12, is
without a doubt the best.
It is thanks to his parents, Svetlana and Michael, who
emigrated to Israel in 1991 and are his coaches, that Zilberman
has managed to become good enough to make it to the Olympics,
according to Nir Sade of the Israel Badminton Association.
Misha and Svetlana were the first ever mother-and-son mixed
doubles team at the world championships in 2009.
"He's lucky that he can rely on his parents, we could never
afford to pay for a coach and a manager with the paltry funding
we get," Sade said.
The sport gets around one million shekels (about $250,000) a
year to support the country's 22 league clubs and tournaments,
but there is a dearth of private money, Sade said.
The other problem is that Zilberman has no real competition.
"There is no single player here that is good enough so I
face two or three opponents at a time. It doesn't cover all
aspects of my training and it is difficult to get better as I
would like, but I can make small improvements," he said.
The Israeli played professionally for Danish league side
Odense in 2011 but returned home to mount his Olympic
qualification bid. He has spent some 35 weeks of the past year
at competitions and at training camps.
He attained qualification for London by reaching the final
of a tournament in Tahiti, where he lost to Chun Seang Tan of
"Last season I played for 5-6 months in the Danish league
and I improved there. It was a good chance to work on technique
and tactics and to make some money," he said.
While players in Denmark are able to make a living in the
sport, such opportunities did not exist in Israel. Zilberman
said he intended to pursue a future as a professional in the
"I have invested so much of my life in the sport that it
would be silly for me to leave early. I think I can continue
till age 30-35," he said.
Standing at 1.71-metres tall, Zilberman said his strength
was his speed, rather than a powerful overhead game.
"Tall players are not as agile but short players lack a
powerful overhead game. I can react quickly to my opponents'
moves, and this is what I concentrate on in my play," Zilberman
Zilberman, who is ranked 65 in the world, said he hoped his
participation in the Olympics would raise interest in the sport
at home, but Sade was not optimistic.
"You need a broad base to nurture a culture of sport and
that simply does not exist here and it is not likely to change
without a massive increase in funding," Sade said.
Above Zilberman's name on his personal website, there is a
line saying "Sponsor wanted", and while his prospects may be
bright for the next 10-15 years, his appearance in the Olympics
men's singles competition is likely to be a solitary effort.
"If I get a good draw, I hope that I will reach the last 16,
that will be a good result for a first Olympics ... I have taken
the sport in Israel to a level that others here had never
thought possible," Zilberman said.
"Finishing in the top-nine would be a real achievement for
me, gaining a medal is just a dream," he added.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)