Lilia Akhaimova, a Russian Jewish gymnast competing in her first Olympics, had the lowest all-around score on her team during the qualifying round for the finals, in part because of a balance beam fall.
But in the finals itself, she shone on the vault, her specialty, earning the top score among the 24 competitors and helping to propel the Russian Olympic Committee, a.k.a. Team Russia, to the gold medal.
Russia’s gold was made possible by a stunning turn of events in the women’s team gymnastics competition — the withdrawal of United States superstar Simone Biles. Russia scored 169.528, 3.432 points ahead of the Americans, winning the country’s first women gymnastics gold since the 1992 Olympics.
A Vladivostok native, Akhaimova is a two-time World Championships silver medalist and 2018 European champion with the Russian women’s team. She was an alternate at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
She’s also extremely active on TikTok, and has been posting lip-syncs in her team uniform.
Akhaimova will compete in the women’s individual vault competition on August 1.
Meanwhile another Jewish athlete, Jessica Fox, considered by many to be the greatest paddler of all time, and who was heavily favored to win gold in the Tokyo Olympics women’s canoe slalom K-1 competition, took home a bronze medal instead, as she did at the 2016 Rio Games.
Ahead of the final, Fox was the top qualifier with the fastest time in the semifinals. Yet as she paddled in her final race, “it didn’t go to plan,” Fox said. “I had to fight all the way down.”
Fox, 27, burst into tears as her mom and coach, Myriam Jerusalmi, also an Olympic medalist in kayaking, comforted her after the race.
“It’s all the emotions,” Fox told Australian media. “I’m disappointed that I made the mistakes I did that cost me the gold medal, but also relieved and happy to be on the podium. It’s our sport… I’d obviously come dreaming of that gold medal, so when I hugged Mum that’s when the floodgates opened.”
Fox had won silver in the same event at the 2012 London Olympics. This year, she’ll be able to compete in a different slalom competition, C-1, in part thanks to her activism — it was added as an event for women. She is favored to win gold there, too. The competition is set to begin on Wednesday.