Tel Aviv – Pascale Bercovitch, who calls herself the world’s oldest kayaker, has failed to win a medal at her three previous Paralympic Games, but said she remains hopeful because “she’s a better athlete at 54 than at 20.”
The French Israeli national rowed for Israel at the 2008 Beijing Games, competed in handcycling in London in 2012 and the paracanoeing at the 2016 Rio Games. She will compete in Tokyo in the 200-meter paracanoe sprint next week.
Bercovitch had both her legs amputated at age 17 following a train accident in France.
“I wanted to board the train. The opposite happened,” she said before a training session on Tel Aviv’s Yarkon River.
She won a paracanoe bronze in the 2020 World Cup, affirming that her age would not inhibit her from success in Tokyo.
“I am the oldest kayaker in the world, but I don’t really look at numbers,” she said, insisting she was “faster and stronger” than she was in her 20s.
Maintaining a level of fitness that surpasses that of her youth requires discipline, said Bercovitch, who has two daughters.
“I don’t eat what I want to eat, I eat what I have to eat. I sleep when I have to sleep. I live a nun’s life,” she said with a smile that seems to be a permanent fixture on her face.
She is well-known in Israel for delivering speeches about her life experiences, but the former journalist said her “passion” for sports is her primary focus.
The postponement of the Games, which kicked off on Tuesday after a yearlong delay due to the pandemic, demanded an extra level of commitment.
“It’s been another year of maintaining the discipline. … There were lockdowns. I was training in my garden.
She said she can no longer picture herself not being in a wheelchair and that she sees herself as “super cute.”
“I’m a meter tall, I’m 45 kilos, I’m in a small wheelchair and I go super fast, everywhere, all time — that’s me!” she said.
Israel used to be a Paralympic powerhouse, winning 69 medals at the 1976 Games in Toronto.
But the haul has diminished in recent years — significantly fewer soldiers have been severely wounded in battle than during the initial decades following Israel’s creation 1948.
But Bercovitch and the 33-athlete strong Israeli delegation hope to surpass the three medals won in Rio.
She did not rule out competing in 2024 in Paris, the city where she was born, but for now her focus is exclusively on Tokyo.
“It’s going to be tight, but I’m going to give it my all and hope for good outcome,” she said.
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