They finally played “Hatikvah” at the Olympics.
Israel, which spent 40 years in the athletic desert, winning no medals from the country’s first appearance in the Summer Games in 1952 until Yael Arad’s silver in judo in 1992, won gold for the first time this week.
Windsurfer Gal Friedman, 28, who won a bronze medal in his Mistral sailing event in Atlanta eight years ago, took the gold on Wednesday in Athens, beating a Greek sailor by 11 points.
“There were moments I was worried but the good guys always win,” Friedman, who is from Pardes Hana, between Tel Aviv and Haifa near the Mediterranean, told The Jerusalem Post. “The feeling is great. It’s a dream. I was focused all the time and I wasn’t scared of the pressure.”
Friedman’s teammates surrounded him on his surfboard after his victory, “squealing like children and hugging each other in a festival of pure joy,” the Post reported. “Television and radio presenters choked on their words.”
After a victory dip in the Saronic Gulf, Friedman wrapped himself in a large Israeli flag. President Moshe Katzav called to offer congratulations.
In Israel, sports fans flooded the office of the Israeli Olympic Committee with mazel tov phone calls. “They are calling from all over,” said Rafeket Weintraub, an IOC spokesman. In the office: “Crying. Very, very, very exciting,” he said.
“We believed we would win one to three medals, and we believed that one would be gold,” Weintraub said.
At Toto, a state-run betting parlor in Rishon Letzion usually patronized by soccer fans, the speculation Wednesday was on Friedman’s prospects.
Miri Arieli watched the finish of the windsurfing race, holding her breath, hands clasped over her mouth.
“C’mon Gal,” she yelled. “Yalla, Yalla, Yalla.”
Moshe Arieli said: “This is the best answer to synagogue arson and suicide bombings — showing the whole world, by winning in athletics, without violence and without aggressiveness. It shows that we’re on the map and we’re not going away.”
The Jerusalem Post Web site announced the historic news with a single word in large letters: “GOLD.”
Friedman’s medal was Israel’s second at Athens — Arik Zeevi won a bronze in judo. Israelis had won a total of three Olympic medals before Athens.
Israel’s breakthrough victory will boost the prestige of athletic accomplishments in the eyes of the Israeli public, said Yair Galily, a sports sociologist at the Wingate Institute for athletics.
“The obsession with politics and news caused sports to be marginal,” Galily said. “The dynamics of Israel, unlike other places, is that there isn’t a lot of time for leisure. It’s not deeply rooted.”
Dov Alber, who runs a kiosk in central Rishon Letzion, called the medal “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“In this place, we need a shot of encouragement,” he said.
For the first time at an Olympics, an Israeli on Wednesday night stood at the center of the medals podium as the ribbon with the gold medal was placed around Friedman’s neck, the Israeli flag was raised and the national anthem, “Hatikvah,” which means “the hope,” was played.
“It’s very good for the morale” of the country, Weintraub said. “We believed we would bring hatikvah to the people of Israel.”
Israel correspondent Joshua Mitnick, in Rishon Letzion, contributed to this report.
- Moshe Katzav
- Joshua Mitnick
- Dov Alber
- Gal Friedman
- Miri Arieli
- Windsurfer Gal Friedman
- Yair Galily
- Yael Arad
- Rafeket Weintraub
- Moshe Arieli
- the Post
- tel aviv
- Israel News
- the jerusalem post
- Staff Writer
- Steve Lipman