Israel’s only medalist so far in the Tokyo Olympics, taekwondo athlete Avishag Semberg, returned to Israel on Tuesday to a hero’s welcome at Ben Gurion Airport and in her hometown of Gedera, sending a message to girls and boys that “anything is possible.”
Semberg, 19, who had not been considered a medal favorite ahead of the contest, won the bronze medal on Saturday in the women’s -49kg category and netted Israel its 10th medal in Olympic history, and its first-ever in the field of taekwondo.
Semberg embraced her partner, fellow taekwondo athlete Nimrod Kravitsky, who was waiting for her with flowers.
Her friends welcomed her by pouring water on her, before she spoke to the press.
“An amazing, crazy feeling,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life, many sleepless nights — my longest sleep was now on the plane — but I have no problem not sleeping to reach these moments.”
She said that what makes her particularly happy is that her achievement has drawn attention to taekwondo: “This is something that is really moving to me.”
Regarding her welcome party, Semberg said: “I was told there’s a lot of positive chaos in Israel so I was sort of expecting it, but I think it’s too much. I think my life has changed, but everything’s okay. I’m not used to it but I’m having fun and am happy that my hard work is appreciated.”
Speaking of her future plans, Semberg set her sights on the gold medal in the Paris 2024 Games.
“I’m focused on being world champion and European champion again. Now it’s time to rest, because this is a dream come true, but the dream is to be an Olympic champion,” she said, adding that she hoped the Israeli delegation to Tokyo ends up returning with “heaps of medals.”
Later in the day, the Gedera Local Council held an event honoring Semberg, attended by 300 residents of the town.
Council head Yoav Gamliel handed her an honorary award and the council granted her NIS 40,000 ($12,300).
“This is exciting, I’m happy she came,” Gamliel said. “Her family has invested so much effort. This is a big honor.”
Semberg spoke at the event, thanking her local club and the Gedera council.
“I want to send a message to young girls and boys who are training or are thinking of training that anything is possible,” she said. “Sometimes I doubted myself and said, ‘I’m just a girl from Gedera, can I really be at the top?’ So yes, you can be at the top, you just need to dream big and dream of it every day.”