Israeli Olympic gold medalist Linoy Ashram said her win on Saturday in the individual rhythmic gymnastics final proves that the sport does not have to be dominated by Eastern Europeans.
“If up until now it was a sport of Eastern Europe, now you can say that it’s a sport for everybody,” Ashram told a video press conference for Israeli media outlets on Sunday morning.
“My result has opened the door to many other countries, and other young gymnasts from places that didn’t think they could reach such heights,” she added. “That can only motivate gymnasts to continue to invest in themselves and not give up.”
Ashram, 22, quoted former Israeli-American basketball star Tal Brody, who led Maccabi Tel Aviv to an unexpected victory over CSKA Moscow in 1977, and proclaimed: “We are on the map, and we’re staying on the map!”
“Just as Tal Brody said, ‘We’re on the map, Israel is on the map, our sport is on the map,'” said Ashram.
And just as Brody and his team won out against the Soviet Union, Ashram beat the heavily favored twins from Russia, Dina and Arina Averina, who ended up in second and fourth places, respectively.
Russia did not take the loss well and vowed to “seek a thorough probe” into the judging, with some accusing the judges of bias.
Dina Averina herself has questioned the results, saying she believes her performance was “clean” while noting that Ashram at one point dropped the ribbon she was using.
Russia has long dominated the field of rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics, winning the gold individual and group medals at every contest since 2000. This year, Dina Averina took home silver in the individual competition and Russia also won silver in the group competition — where Israel came in sixth overall.
Ashram said she was not focused on the actions of other competitors and declined to respond to the Russian controversy.
“I didn’t look at the others or at their results,” she said. “I was focused just on myself, my scores and what I got.”
The gold medalist spoke to reporters from Tokyo a day after her history-making gold medal, when she became the first Israeli female athlete to take home an Olympic gold.
“It’s hard to even imagine that I was at the Olympics, it’s been my dream since I was a little girl,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be at Tokyo, I dreamed about it and wanted to be there and have that experience, but I never imagined that I would come home from there with a medal, and a gold medal at that.”
Seated alongside her fellow Israeli rhythmic gymnast Nicol Zelikman, who finished seventh overall in the finals of the event, Ashram said she was thrilled to make history together.
“I am overjoyed at the result that both of us got, we made history — two Israeli rhythmic gymnasts, not just in the final but ranked in the top 7 — it’s something that’s never happened before,” said Ashram.
Zelikman told reporters that she wouldn’t have wanted to take this journey with anybody else.
“We’ve been making history for five consecutive years together, and I couldn’t be happier to have shared this journey with you,” said Zelikman.
Ashram added: “You can see always how much we rely on each other, and support each other and push each other, and it was so much fun to go through this experience with someone always by my side.”
Almost 24 hours after her historic win, Ashram said the experience barely seems real yet.
“It still hasn’t set in, I slept last night for about 40 minutes,” she said, noting that the medal stayed next to her in bed. “I always dreamed to do my best and get the highest possible outcome — but I never imagined it would be a gold medal and the title of Olympic champion.”