Israeli Backstroke Star, Yoav Gath, Ponders Comeback

TEL AVIV, December 21. ISRAELI swim star Yoav Gath shocked the national swimming scene 11 months ago when he quit top-level swimming at the height of preparations for the Athens Olympics. At the time, Gath was Israel's best hope for a swimming medal.

Now, Gath may be pondering a return to competition, according to a report today in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

Gath continued swimming in smaller events, Haaretz reports.

"Two months ago, Gath asked coach Leonid Kaufman to be excused from the third day of competition at the Jerusalem Cup. He said he felt a day's training at the Wingate Institute pool would be more productive before the European short-course championships in Germany.

"Kaufman agreed and the two made a date to meet at Wingate. He expected 22-year-old Gath to arrive at Wingate at 5:30 P.M. On his way, Gath got stuck in traffic. He called Kaufman from his car and was told to try and get to Wingate anyway. Gath failed to appear. He then skipped three more sessions, did not answer his phone and was nowhere to be found.

"Gath took a third place in the 2000 European Championships in Helsinki and made it to the semifinals in the Sydney Games in 2002. In April 2002, he finished sixth in the world at the Short Course Swimming Championships.

"In July 2003, Gath became the first Israeli to break the two-minute barrier as he set a national record for the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 1:59.22. He also holds the national record for the distance in short course competition – 1:54.15.

"Now Kaufman is sure Gath will participate in at least one race at the end-of-season competition that starts tomorrow at Kiryat Bialik. Kaufman says Gath will swim in the 100-meter butterfly and possibly in one of the relay races.

"Kaufman said he has worked with four swimmers of the highest potential: 'I don't want to rank Eitan Orbach, Mickey Halika, Vered Borochovsky and Yoav Gath – all are very gifted and have brought honor to Israel.'"