Rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram wins Israel’s 3rd-ever Olympic gold
22-year-old takes top place on the podium, bringing home Israel’s 4th Tokyo medal; teammate Nicol Zelikman is 7th; Israelis finish 4th in group all-around qualifiers
Rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram won Israel’s third-ever Olympic gold medal on Saturday, beating out tough competition to take the top spot on the Tokyo 2020 podium and ending over two decades of Russian dominance in the sport.
Ashram is the first Israeli woman to win a gold at the Olympics.
“It’s what I dreamed of for all my life,” Ashram said after the win.
“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.
“It’s a crazy experience that I still haven’t fully digested and with peak levels of excitement,” Ashram said.
She was visibly moved as Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, rang out through the gymnastics center as the flag was raised.
The gymnast won Israel’s third Olympic gold medal just days after gymnast Artem Dolgopyat won Israel’s second. Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman won the first gold for Israel in Athens in 2004.
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As well as the two golds, Israel’s Olympic team had already picked up two bronze medals in Tokyo — for the judo mixed team, and Avishag Semberg for taekwondo in the women’s 49kg category.
The Tokyo games are thus Israel’s most successful, since it has never previously won more than two medals at any one Olympics.
Ashram led the first three rotations on Saturday morning. She scored 27.550 and came top in the first discipline of the individual contest with her hoop routine.
She then came joint first in the second rotation — the ball routine — with a score of 28.300. In the third rotation, clubs, Ashram received 28.650.
In her final routine, set to “Hava Nagila,” Ashram fumbled her ribbon at one point and scored 23.300. However, it was still enough for her to maintain her lead over Russian gymnast Dina Averina, who took the silver medal.
Ashram said that waiting for Averina’s score in the final routine, which would determine the order of medals was “the most stressful moment of my life.”
Averina later claimed she ought to have won, and the Russian Olympic Committee protested the “injustice.”
Alina Harnasko of Belarus won bronze and Averina’s twin sister Arina came in fourth.
Israeli gymnast Nicol Zelikman came in 7th overall. She had a shaky start with her hoop routine, scoring 23.700.
Zelikman fared better with the ball routine, scoring 24.150, and then 25.600 for clubs before finishing with 22.150 for her ribbon rotation.
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.
They also finished first and second in Friday’s qualifying, with Ashram third after she dropped her hoop.
But Arina, the older of the pair by 20 minutes, missed out on the podium completely on Saturday as a knot in her ribbon allowed Harnasko to grab bronze.
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 Sunday.
Agencies contributed to this report.