Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat won Israel’s second-ever Olympic gold medal Sunday, beating out tough Spanish and Chinese competition in the artistic gymnastics floor exercise competition to take the top spot on the Tokyo 2020 podium.
Dolgopyat, a 24-year-old two-time world championship silver medalist who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine at the age of 12, was considered Israel’s best hope for a gold medal at this year’s games.
His final round routine Sunday impressed judges, scoring him 14.933, giving him a total ahead of Spain’s Rayderley Miguel Zapata, who took silver and China’s Xiao Ruoteng, who won the bronze medal.
After Russian team gold winner Nikita Nagornyy was marked down after over-rotating and stumbling on his trademark triple pike tumble, Zapata looked destined for the title.
But Dolgopyat turned the Spaniard’s gold into silver when his routine matched Zapata’s score of 14.933, and with their execution mark also the same, it went down to the difficulty level, with Dolgopyat taking the title by just 0.100.
Dolgopyat had ranked first in the qualifying event after scoring 15.2.
The gold medal is only the second in Israeli history, following windsurfer Gal Friedman’s 2004 win in Athens.
Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, rang out as the Israeli gymnast accepted his medal to huge applause.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett applauded Dolgopyat for “making history.”
He said the gymnast brought “immense pride and excitement to all of Israel.”
Bennett interrupted a cabinet meeting to call Dolgopyat in Tokyo and congratulate him, as fellow ministers applauded.
איזה רגע! התקווה! ארטיום דולגופיאט, הרגע הזה הוא שלך ואנחנו מצדיעים pic.twitter.com/COjqf7eEVd
— חגית קלימן – Hagit Klaiman (@klaiman14) August 1, 2021
“Artem, you champion, you made history today!” tweeted President Isaac Herzog.
Speaking to reporters after the medal ceremony, Dolgopyat said he was “speechless.”
“I’m still in the sky and it’s hard to come down,” he said, thanking supporters in Israel and saying, “I love you all.”
“I didn’t do my best routine… and I was worried it wouldn’t be enough for a medal… but everyone else was nervous and made mistakes and it was enough,” he said of his winning routine. “When I saw that my score wasn’t very high, I was worried.”
Asked how an athlete celebrates winning a gold medal, he said, “It’s my first so I don’t know yet.”
Also taking part in a final Sunday will be Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko, who will compete in the women’s triple jump medal fight at 2:15 p.m. (Israel time).
Earlier Sunday, Noya Bar Am and Shahar Tibi competed in windsurfing in the women’s 470 races 7 and 8, finishing in eighth place.
Israel’s Yoav Cohen finished in first place in the Men’s RS:X Windsurfing final race on Saturday, but it was not enough to put him on the podium, with the Israeli coming in fourth overall.
Early Sunday, at around 4 a.m. in Israel, Adva Cohen took part in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase qualification race, but finished last.
Saturday saw Israel clinch its second medal of the games, winning the judo mixed team bronze. The team scored a victory over their Russian opponents in the consolation round of an event being held for the first time this year.
Also Saturday, Israeli archer Itay Shanny’s surprise Olympic run ended when he lost in the last eight in the men’s individual competition after a dramatic shoot-off was needed to separate him from eventual victor Tang Chih-chun. He had placed 60th out of 64 competitors in the initial ranking round.
Israel’s swimmers also finished 8th in the Olympic debut of the 4×100-meter mixed medley relay after a strong display to make the final.
Avishag Semberg’s taekwondo bronze in the women’s -49kg category last week was Israel’s first medal at the games until the mixed team’s win.
See the full Olympics schedule for Israel’s athletes here.
AP contributed to this report.