Guy Barnea represented Israel at the 2008 Olympic Games in backstroke. He just missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Games. He was a member of the Race Club which is a swimming club founded by Gary Hall Jr and his father Gary Hall Sr. It is our pleasure to be able to speak to him about sports and his Olympic moments.
When did you start in your sport?
I started swimming when I was six years old. This was in Omer, which is next to Beer Sheva. By the time, I was nine I was a good swimmer and traveled to my first international meet in Germany.
When did you know you wanted to be in the Olympics?
I think it was the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. I was watching the races in my classroom (I was 13) with other students and I was so excited by seeing our backstroker Eitan Urbach making it to the first Olympic final in Israel’s history.
How did your commitment to sports change your childhood?
I was super committed to the sport and to improving my skills. I loved being good at something I do, and that was swimming. I was setting goals, spending hours at the pool every day, and eating right in order to get better. I am fortunate to have a supportive family that has helped me and provided the best conditions for me to succeed.
What is your first memory of the Olympics?
When we just landed in Beijing, our coach Leonid Kauffman, who had been to 3 previous Olympics, told us that when we get to the village it will be overwhelming to see the facilities, the sport stars and the media. He instructed us to stay cool and keep our heart rate down. I remember thinking to myself that’s not a problem and that I’ve been to big events already. However, when we started approaching the village, and saw the huge tower with the Olympic rings on it, we all crowded at the front of the bus to see them better. I remember my heart rate was extremely high. It was what I’ve been dreaming about since the age of 13.
What can you tell us about the Race Club?
The race club was an amazing opportunity and experience that is very fun to look back on. I got the chance to train under Mike Bottom, who is one of my favorite people in the world, and with a group of international Olympic swimmers. We lived in Islamorada in Florida. We basically swam a lot, went spear fishing, ate a lot of mahi mahi sandwiches, and had full moon parties on the beach.
Who are your role models?
My role models are successful athletes who stay true to their character. One example is Markus Rogan, Austrian Olympic medalist, who has a very unique sense of humor. Not everyone gets it, but if you understand the guy you will have a blast with him. Another one is Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who says screw business and questions the status quo every minute.
What was your biggest challenge prior to getting to the Olympics?
Staying on an island and swimming for a whole year was hard at times. I wasn’t studying or doing anything else, so it was hard to get my mind off swimming. However, we traveled a lot prior to the games, and I got to see and race in very cool places in the world.
What were your expectations heading into Beijing?
I kept saying in the press that I want to make at least the semi-final in the 100 backstroke. In my mind I was hoping to go even further and make the final. In the end, I reached the semi-finals and was pleased with it.
Is there anything about sport in Israel that you wish you could fix?
I think there’s no one in Israel who wouldn’t have an opinion on this question. The main things for me will be:
- Better and equal allocation of money from sports like soccer and basketball to the Olympic sports.
- Better and more flexible integration of athletes in the army during their mandatory service;
- The building high-end facilities so we can attract big events such as European Championships, and maybe even World Championships.
- A Tel Aviv Olympics sounds pretty good, too.
Besides swimming, what sports at the Olympics do you like to watch?
Last time I surprised myself by how much I think fencing is cool and exciting. Besides that, track and field, gymnastics, and judo (where Israel has some serious contenders).
What has been your biggest challenge since you participated?
Staying motivated was not easy when I got back. Luckily I went back to a great team at Cal, led by Dave Durden and Greg Meehan. I had to set myself new goals. One that really motivated me was to stand on the podium in a big meet. That year I won the bronze in the World University games, and later silver, and two bronzes at the European Championships.
This year was very interesting since for the first time I was challenged by two talented Israeli swimmers in my event. We battled for the top two spots since last summer, I was off by three-one hundredths to make it to this Olympics again, but in the end they were better. So I’m dealing with the disappointment of it which is definitely another challenge, but I’m already taking it in a good direction.
At Beijing, did you meet any people that made you go ‘WOW’!
My teammate Gal Nevo was always a talented swimmer, but because of shoulder injury, he didn’t get to compete, as he wanted to for years. When we go to the Olympics, it was as if he was in a different zone. He swam amazing times and was 11th in the 400 IM. Another one is Jason Lezak on the 400 free relays to bring gold to the US. I have spoken to Lezak a few times and I was amazed by how humble this guy is.
How do you see your post-swimming life looking?
Fun – a lot of fun. A part of me can’t wait to get there. There are a lot of things in the entrepreneurial world that I’m very passionate about. And now that I just got back to Israel, I have many opportunities to expand myself outside of swimming.
Welcome back to Israel. We look forward to watching you succeed with your new passion, the world of entrepreneurs. Good Luck!