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Tokyo 2020'I still can barely digest it and believe it'

‘Warmest welcome ever’: Olympic gold medalist Artem Dolgopyat returns to Israel

‘I feel like crying from all the excitement, even more than when I won the medal — just kidding,’ says the gymnast after being doused with champagne outside Ben Gurion Airport

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Artem Dolgopyat, who won a gold medal at the Olympic games in Tokyo, is greeted by family and friends during a welcome ceremony, at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Artem Dolgopyat, who won a gold medal at the Olympic games in Tokyo, is greeted by family and friends during a welcome ceremony, at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

With the blast of a shofar and a spray of champagne, Israeli Olympic gold medalist Artem Dolgopyat was given a hero’s welcome at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning.

Exiting the airport with his gold medal around his neck, Dolgopyat was greeted by family, friends and fans accompanied by a pair of enthusiastic drummers.

With printed signs and handmade posters, the athlete’s welcoming committee shouted his name and doused him with champagne as he landed in Tel Aviv following his achievement at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“This is the warmest welcome I’ve received in my life,” Dolgopyat told reporters just outside the airport.

“Thank you to everyone for coming. I feel like crying from all the excitement, even more than when I won the medal — just kidding,” he added.

The gymnast was first welcomed inside the airport by his father, Oleg Dolgopyat, his mother, Angela Bilan. Also there to greet him was his fiancée, Maria Seikovitch, who told Channel 12 amid public debate over the fact that the Olympian cannot marry in Israel, that they got engaged last year.

Amid piles of golden balloons, cardboard gold medals and shouting fans, Dolgopyat was hoisted up in the crowd and hugged by friends, including his longtime mentor and fellow Israeli Olympic gymnast Alex Shatilov.

“Alex paved the way for me,” Dolgopyat told reporters on Tuesday. “And I really, really hope that there will be more after me who will reach such achievements.”

Artem Dolgopyat, who won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, poses for a photo with friends during a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The athlete said that during the medal ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday, “I didn’t really believe it in the moment. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

“And I still can barely digest it and believe it,” he said.

Sergey Weissburg, Dolgopyat’s longtime coach, thanked the crowd for the exuberant welcome.

“We didn’t expect such a warm and celebratory reception,” he said, “but an [Israeli] Olympic champion in gymnastics is also a first-time event.”

Dolgopyat said he was somewhat overwhelmed by the attention, but planned to continue focusing on the sport.

Artem Dolgopyat, who won a gold medal at the Olympic games in Tokyo, with fellow Olympic gymnast Alex Shatilov (left) and his coach, Sergey Weissburg (right) during a welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, but I hope everything will be OK and everything will work out,” he said. And as for the welcome: “It’s a lot of fun and it’s very happy — and I’m soaked in champagne.”

Oleg Dolgopyat told Ynet that it was very emotional to be reunited with his son after he won a gold medal in Tokyo.

“I’m excited, I’m proud to have a son like this, he’s incredible,” Oleg said. As he watched from home when his son won the gold, “my heart jumped, my body was on fire — I can’t explain how I felt.”

Oleg, the father of Israeli Olympic gold medalist Artem Dolgopyat, seen during a welcome ceremony for Artem at Ben-Gurion International Airport on August 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

At a video press conference for Israeli reporters from Tokyo on Monday, Dolgopyat said he was already thinking about the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“We’re not going to stop, we’re going to move forward with our focus on Paris and get ready for that and bring honor to the country,” he said. “We need to start thinking of a new routine and check all the new rules and we’ll start working and see what scores we get.”

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