Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits made history on Sunday when she won the gold medal at the World Sailing Championships in Perth, Australia. Korzits competed in the women's RS:X category, a category of windsurfing in which athletes compete in the style of windsurfing great NeilPryde.
The victory marked the second world championship for Korzits, 27. Korzits, who grew up in Hofit, in Israel's central Hefer Valley, won her first title in 2003 in Cadis, Spain. At the time, she was only 19. Since then, serious injuries twice forced her to say she was retiring, in 2006 and 2010. During a devastating accident in Hawaii two years ago, she broke two ribs. This week, however, Korzits again proved that she is cut from an extra-tough cloth.
Under the guidance of her coach Ben Finkelstein, Korzits was already performing well in the week before the competition in Australia. She won three sails and finished among the top four in another six runs of the course. As the medal sail approached, she held first place overall in the competition. In the final sail on Sunday, Korvits had enough points to finish behind the other major contenders, Marina Alabau from Spain and European Champion Zofia Noceti-Klepacka from Poland, and still hold on to her lead.
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Korzits finished fifth in the medal round but maintained her overall standing in competition. At the end of the medal round, when she realized that Klepacka and Alabau had not overtaken her in the general ranking, she began to celebrate with her fellow Israeli teammates.
The Prize - NIS 100,000 ($26,518)
"I am so happy that I can represent my country, stand here with the flag and hear the national anthem, on this day when I'm so far away from home," Korzits said. Wrapped in the Israeli flag, she added, "When I get in the water, I feel like a combat soldier, even if friends are competing against me. On the beach we are the best of friends, like sisters, but in the water we are enemies."
Gal Fridman, coach for 2009 World Champion windsurfer Nimrod Mashiah and a world champion herself in 2002, was among Korzits' celebrants at the competition. Fridman is a member of the team and a big fan of Korzits. She told Israel Hayom, "This was a great win for Lee. She led from the first sail and demonstrated maturity and stamina under pressure all week long. Her achievement is simply incredible. Also remember the work of Coach Finkelstein, who gave her lots of confidence and mental serenity at crucial moments."
Korzits is the first Israeli to twice earn the World Champion Windsurfer title. This achievement, alongside her silver medal in the European Championships last September in Bulgaria, put her at the top of the list for Israel's team to the 2012 London Olympics, which has only one spot for women competing in NeilPryde Formula windsurfing.
Upon Korzits' return to Israel, she will be formally greeted by the Israeli Olympic Committee. They will present her with a check for NIS 100,000 ($26,518) for her achievements. Finkelstein will earn NIS 50,000 ($13,290) for his work, as well.
Netanyahu: "Another proof of your persistence, in addition to your tremendous talent"
Praise from Israeli leaders was pouring in following Korzits' victory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Korzits and noted that she had brought great honor to Israeli sports in general. "This was another proof of your persistence, in addition to your tremendous talent. I expect to see you at the London Olympics," he said.
President Shimon Peres called Korzits from the middle of the 2011 Globes Israel Business Conference to personally offer his congratulations. "If I had longer arms, I would send them to Australia in order to hug you in the name of the state of Israel. You are the first Israeli to win the World Championships twice and this is an unprecedented achievement. You grabbed the best place possible. You overcame the wind, you are magnificent and the nation loves you. The national anthem will be heard with integrity because of you; we are proud of you."
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat also chimed in with kudos. "Korzits has become one of the most important ambassadors of Israeli sports in the world," she said.
President of the Israeli Olympic Committee Zvi Varshaviak said, "Lee proved that she possesses all the necessary characteristics of a world champion - determination, perseverance and willpower."
Gili Lustig, director of the Achievement-Oriented Sports Department, said, "Korzits' group ranking throughout the competition is very impressive. She was way ahead of her peers and she made us proud."
Great achievements for Maayan Davidovich as well
Fellow team member Maayan Davidovich is Korzits' major competition for the spot on Israel's 2012 Olympic team. In Australia, she won the medal round and placed 6th overall in the competition.
Meanwhile, in the Men's 470 competition, sailors Gidi Kliger and Eran Sela finished in 10th place in the medal round and took 4th in the overall ranking for their category.
Shahar Zubari and Nimrod Mashiah in an additional chapter
The World Sailing Championships in Perth continue on Monday with other Israeli contenders. Shahar Zubari and Nimrod Mashiah continuing to battle over the single spot on the Olympic team for male windsurfers. Like Korzits, they are both also NeilPryde Formula sailors. Their competition has been a bit brutal and dirty --in the last European championship, Mashiah was punished for blocking Zubari and preventing him from winning the medal.
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