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Canoeing at the Olympics Photo: AFP
Canoeing at the Olympics Photo: AFP

Nazareth Illit's secret Olympic champion

Naum Prokupets, 64, may look like any other factory worker but has quite a colorful past – as an Olympic bronze medalist for former USSR

Yisrael Moskovich
Published: 08.28.12, 13:48 / Israel Culture

For years he showed up at work as a production worker at a Migdal Ha'Emek factory without anyone knowing they were working side by side with an Olympic medalist.


Meet Naum Prokupets, 64, who once brought great honor to the USSR – but was too modest to share his tale of glory.


Born in a small town in Moldova. "As a boy I took part in many sporting activities, but not professionally," Prokupets notes. "When I was 17 a professional trainer came to us in a canoe, I started to practice – and I took a shine to it."


His coaches noticed his talent. Not too long after that he moved to Moscow to train with the national USSR canoeing team.

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In 1968 he represented his country at the Olympic Games in Mexico City and won the bronze medal with his teammates. Together with the rest of the Olympic delegation he was welcomed back to Russia with a reception at the Kremlin attended by the highest echelons of the USSR government.


"Anyone who came back with a medal was considered a hero," Prukopets recalls. "It was very moving, and I felt I could do even better," and indeed, he later went on to win the canoeing world champion title.


"I was supposed to take part in the Olympic Games at Munich, but by then I was sick of it so I left canoeing."


He moved on to a desk job and over the years served in senior positions in the sports administration. In 1991 he decided that as a Jew, his place was in Israel – so he made aliyah.


At first, he worked as a security guard, then as a pool lifeguard. "I have an academic education but we needed to make a living immediately."


For the past few years he has been working as a production worker at the Flextronics electronics plant in Migdal Ha'Emek and lives with his family in Nazareth Illit. He has never before discussed his illustrious sporting past. "What do I need it for? I come to work," he says with a modest smile.


Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gapso said: "The entire city is proud of Prokupets' sporting achievements and we will award him with a medal of honor."



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