Israeli taekwondo practitioner Avishag Semberg won the bronze in the women’s -49kg category on Saturday, netting the Jewish state its first medal at the Tokyo Games on the first full day of the Olympics — Israel’s 10th medal in Olympic history and its first ever in the field of taekwondo.
The 19-year-old Semberg defeated Turkey’s Rukiye Yıldırım 27-22. Taekwondo now joins judo, canoeing and sailing as the only sports in which Israel has won Olympic medals.
Semberg, Israel’s third female Olympic medalist, scored an early lead in the first of three two-minute rounds, and managed to maintain it during the second one. However, Yildirim overtook her during the third round, leading to a tense finale in which the Israeli eventually managed to take the lead once again in the final 25 seconds.
After her win, Semberg ran to the stands to embrace Yael Arad, a former judoka who was the first Israeli to ever win an Olympic medal, with a second-place finish at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper was also there to celebrate with the young athlete.
Of her last-minute rally to take the lead in the match, Semberg said, “After the turnaround, I said to myself, ‘I want this medal more than she does,’ and I did it… I have an Olympic medal at 19, it’s a dream come true.”
“I still haven’t fully grasped what I did here — [the fact I won] an Olympic medal is not yet absorbed in my head. I thank the many people who played a part in my journey,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Semberg already made history by winning Israel its first-ever Olympic taekwondo fight, defeating Puerto Rico’s Victoria Stambaugh 22-2 in the women’s -49 kg event.
In the subsequent round of 16 though, Semberg was soundly defeated 29-5 by Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit, who went on to win the gold.
Semberg then won her consolation bracket fight against Vietnam’s Truong Thi Kim Tuyen 22-1, to put her in position for the fight for the bronze.
The rising star also won the 2020 European Championships.
Semberg’s mother, Nili, told Israeli sports channel Sports 1 that she was proud of her daughter and admired her greatly. “She is an inspiration to me…. a stunning and amazing girl. I am always, always proud of her, she is a model for me – for determination, for achievement, for everything.”
“I’m learning from her what it’s like to dream big, what it’s like to be brave – to be in such a field that [can be] true hell – 16 girls from all over the world reach this status,” added Nili Semberg.
Politicians were also quick to congratulate Semberg on her achievement.
“A medal for Avishag! Honor for Israel,” tweeted Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
In a statement, Tropper said: “Avishag Semberg has made the dream a reality and brought us the first medal with an amazing start to the Olympics. A humble and ambitious athlete. Avishag — we are proud of you!”
Earlier, Israeli judoka Shira Rishony lost her shot at an Olympic bronze after being defeated by Ukrainian Daria Bilodid. Rishony had been the first Israeli athlete with a chance at a medal.
Amir Rishony, Shira Rishony’s father, said he was “very proud” of his daughter for making it that far and that it was “an insane achievement.”
“In this sport, for every victory, there are dozens of failures,” Rishony told Ynet, praising his daughter’s work and saying that “as an Olympic athlete, she will feel she missed her shot [at the gold medal]… but will continue smiling.”
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli congratulated both Rishony and Semberg on their achievements. “Such pride, Avishag Samberg and Shira Rishony. You are an inspiration to girls and adolescents not just in Israel, but across the world,” she tweeted.
Rishony, ranked 15th in the world in the women’s -48kg category, had surprised many observers by qualifying for the quarterfinals. She lost that fight but won her next, putting her one fight away from a bronze. Rishony and Bilodid faced off in a tense four-minute fight in which both nearly scored on several occasions. Bilodid eventually sealed the deal with an ippon in the last few seconds.
In badminton, in a career highlight, Israel’s Misha Zilberman won his first match against Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth of India, ranked 15th in the world. He is now expected to play against the Dutch Mark Caljao on Monday.
Elsewhere in Tokyo, Israel’s artistic gymnast Alexander Shatilov fell out of the competition after failing to advance to the final eight. The 34-year-old later said this will likely be his final Olympics.
Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat, meanwhile, was expected to reach the finals after scoring 15.2 in the opening round of the men’s floor qualifying event. The finals are set for next week.
A full schedule for Israel’s athletes at the Tokyo Olympics can by found here.