Israeli Olympic gold medalist Linoy Ashram, who won the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on Saturday, said she was still processing her shock victory over three-time world champion Dina Averina from Russia, and felt exhilarated by her achievement.
“I still haven’t processed [the victory], I’m still in shock over what happened and what I’ve achieved,” Ashram told Channel 12 news on Saturday evening. “I have no words. It’s such an exciting, fun experience.”
“I’m the happiest with my achievements. I did the best I could,” she said.
The Israeli gymnast said she arrived in Tokyo “less focused on the medals and what the final results would be” and more on herself and her routines. “I came here to do the best I could,” she said.
Ashram is the first Israeli woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics. The gymnast won Israel’s third Olympic gold medal six days after artistic gymnast Artem Dolgopyat won Israel’s second. Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman won the first gold for Israel in Athens in 2004.
Ashram received a host of congratulatory messages on Saturday from Israeli public figures.
President Isaac Herzog spoke by phone with the Olympic winner, telling her she was “a tremendous pride to the whole country.”
“When we saw the tears flowing from your eyes, the Israeli flag being raised, ‘Hatikva’ being played and the gold medal on your neck — we were excited to the point of tears,” Herzog said in a statement from his office.
He also advised Ashram not to “take any objections to heart,” referring to Russian protests against the judges granting of the gold medal to Ashram.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett posted a tweet on Saturday evening congratulating Ashram on the win, and hailing her as “a symbol of effort and hard work.”
“Linoy, you are a champion! Hatikva was played once again today at the Tokyo Olympics, and the heart was once again filled with pride,” wrote Bennett.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also took to Twitter to praise Ashram and included a short clip of the national anthem playing in the Japanese capital.
התקווה הושמעה פעמיים בטוקיו. מרגש. pic.twitter.com/mDqpImrChe
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid???? (@yairlapid) August 7, 2021
Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper said Ashram was one of the greatest athletes in Israel’s history and thanked her for “letting us take part in your incredible journey.”
Ashram’s victory ended over two decades of Russian dominance in the sport, and sparked outrage from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), which vowed to file a complaint with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and demanded a probe into the judging process.
Ashram told Channel 12 that she would not get distracted by the results of other athletes and was only focused on her own scores in the event. “I’m not looking elsewhere. I came here to do the best I could. I wanted to focus on what I was doing,” she said.
Asked what message she had for girls and women watching her win the gold medal, Ashram said they should “keep dreaming their dreams, not give up, and surround themselves with people who support them and help them.”
Earlier, Ashram told Army Radio that she was “the happiest person in the world.”
“I thank everyone who supported me. This accomplishment is not only mine, but it is the entire State of Israel’s,” she said.
Immediately after her victory, Ashram said the moment is “what I dreamed of my whole life.”
“It’s an amazing feeling to stand in this place, at this time, on the podium and in first place,” said the 22-year-old gymnast, who has now been picked to carry the flag at the closing ceremony.
She was visibly moved as Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, rang out through the gymnastics center as the flag was raised.
The Tokyo Games are thus Israel’s most successful, since the country has never previously won more than two medals at any one Olympics.
Russia has been reeling from Ashram’s win (and Averina’s defeat), with the president of the ROC, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, saying that the organization will “seek a thorough probe into the judging situation at the Olympics.”
The ROC had earlier expressed outrage over the loss, calling it an “injustice.” On Twitter, the organization also posted a statement by Averina that read, in part: “My conscience is clear, I still believe that I won.”
Prominent Russians, meanwhile, accused the judges of bias. “Dina didn’t lose, she won. But unfortunately the judging was egregiously unjust,” Irina Viner, president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, said in comments to RT, a Kremlin-backed TV channel.
“It was simply a disgrace to rhythmic gymnastics,” said the coach.
Viner claimed that the judges supported Ashram. “Enough, they got tired of Russia. And the judges decided to support this Israeli woman.”
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova fumed, accusing the judges of committing “forgery in front of the whole world.”
“Those who started the Russophobic war against the sport could not allow this victory,” Zakharova said on messaging app Telegram.
Ashram, 22, led the finals for rhythmic gymnastics for the first three rounds with almost flawless performances, and clung on despite a mistake in her closing ribbon routine to win with 107.800 points overall, just 0.150 ahead of Averina.
Averina had needed to score at least 24.15 points for her ribbon routine, but despite what the Russians said was an “excellent” performance, she scored 24 points and finished in second place.
The ROC lodged several inquiries into the scores but, after a brief review, the points stood.
Ashram told Channel 12 on Saturday that the moments between the review and the final score results were “some of the longest moments of my life.”
Alina Harnasko of Belarus won bronze and Averina’s twin sister Arina came in fourth.
Israeli gymnast Nicol Zelikman came in 7th overall.
Saturday was the first time a Russian gymnast has failed to win the title since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is arguably one of the biggest surprises in the sport’s history.
Russian gymnasts have won 12 of the past 14 world championship all-around golds. One of the two times they missed out was in 2001, when Alina Kabaeva was stripped of her title after testing positive for a banned diuretic.
Ashram, the 2018 world all-around silver medalist, had been in good form this season, but was not expected to beat the identical twin sisters.
The twins, between them, had won every major championship all-around title they had competed for since the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Ashram has been competing in international contests since 2014. She now has 92 medals from various international competitions under her belt.
Also on Saturday, Israel qualified for the women’s rhythmic gymnastics group all-around, finishing 4th, behind Bulgaria, Russia and Italy. The group finals will take place on Sunday.