The Big (but not fat!) Israeli Team Controversy

Team Israel has won gold at the European Championship, but the practices of the head coach Ira Vigdorchik have been under fire. Allegedly, she verbally abused and even physically hit some of the girls, made them train outside where there were holes in the grass, restricted their food intake and even prevented them from using the bathroom. None of these accusations have been proven but it has become known that the team has refused to work with her and even gotten a lawyer involved in resolving the conflict.

First, I'd like to say that I feel pain every time I read horrible stories about our favorite sport. We have listened to false rumors for many years and there is no doubt these rumors have scared away many prospective gymnasts and their parents who have to decide to trust coaches when children are still very young and impressionable. For this reason, I would like to urge everyone to treat this with utmost delicacy and respect for all parties involved.

Second, fans on an online discussion forum have now explained that, following a press conference, the following decisions have been announced:

1. Ira Vigdorchik will fly to Rio with the team.
2. Ira will direct the training of the team by providing oral instructions to other coaches such as Ela Samofalov, Raya Irgo and Aelet Zussman, who will then transmit these instructions to the team. Ira is allowed to decide whether she would like to be present during to training.
3. An administrative commission will, at a later stage, provide formal recommendations about the training conditions and procedures in Israel.

Pictured above is Ela Samofalov, Neta Rivkin's coach who will assist with this process. It remains to be seen whether coaches can be responsible for both the individual gymnasts and the group exericese and how that affects the overall state of preparedness and confidence in the Israeli team.

In the meantime, Neta Rivkin hopes to battle for an Olympic medal at Rio after years of very successful competitions and strong routines. She deserves this but it is not entirely clear who will represent Israel at the Olympic Games. Before we speculate further about the power struggle going on in  the Israeli team, I would like to point out that we are discussing very experienced and talented athletes and coaches and we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt before jumping to any conclusions about what is happening or about what should happen next.  With regard to individual gymnasts, there is no doubt that Victoria Filanovsky is also very prepared and has built a strong reputation for herself with very solid routines all season. "Tori" is holding on to her Olympic chances as hard as she can. I will not hide that my strong personal preference is for Neta but that I see great potential in the future for Tori, who is a young and very energetic athlete.

However, the group is really the team that has a chance to medal and this chance is much greater than what the individual gymnasts can accomplish so I hope the Israeli group stays in good health and with as much peace of mind as possible in what appears to be an emotionally draining conflict.

This team has done nothing but stellar work this year. Their hoop and clubs routine is one of the most original ones in the world and they dazzled their home audience in Holon with strong performances. I would think they should be ready to captivate Rio as well if they have the opportunity to work in a nurturing environment.