by Philissa Cramer
(JTA) — Israeli men’s gymnast Artem Dolgopyat took home the Olympic gold medal in floor exercise Sunday, giving Israel its second-ever gold in any Olympic event.
Born in Dnipro, Ukraine, Dolgopyat moved with his family to Israel when he was 12 and began training at Maccabi Tel Aviv, an acclaimed sports club that has produced multiple Olympians. The Associated Press had predicted that he would win gold at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics (and that six other Israeli athletes or teams would medal during the games).
Until Sunday, the only gold medal ever won by an Israeli was Gal Fridman’s 2004 gold in windsurfing.
“I don’t know what it will be like when I go back to Israel — until now I definitely wasn’t well known or recognized,” Dolgopyat said. “I want to continue to be modest the way I am, and not think about the things around me and just do my work.”
He’s already shifted his sights to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, hoping to repeat his success.
The Jewish highlights of the Tokyo Olympics kicked off with Jewish basketball superstar Sue Bird serving as one of Team USA’s two flag bearers at the opening ceremony, a huge honor.
The lasting accolades, though, are the medals that winning athletes take home. Dozens of Jewish athletes are competing in the Games this year, but the fierce competition means that only some will enter the record books as gold, silver or bronze medalists.
Here are the Jewish athletes who have clinched a medal, in chronological order. We’ll continue to update this list until the last day of competition, Aug. 8.
Avishag Semberg won bronze in taekwondo for Team Israel on day one of the competition.
Semberg, 19, was third in the women’s under-49 kg category, giving Israel its first medal of the Tokyo Olympics and its first ever in the sport.
“I said to myself, ‘I want this medal more than she does,’ and I did it … I have an Olympic medal at 19, it’s a dream come true,” Semberg said following her win.
Because of the pandemic, Semberg did not stay in Tokyo long afterward, and she was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport with a festive reception and big celebration.
Jessica Fox of Australia won bronze in women’s kayak slalom on day four of the competition. Two days later she took gold in women’s canoe slalom.
Fox, considered by many to be the greatest paddler of all time, was the only athlete to medal in both canoe slalom and kayak slalom. She finished a disappointing third in the kayak race, but rallied for the gold in the historic canoe event — it was the first time that women’s canoe slalom has been contested at the Olympics.
Fox had previously won two Olympic medals: silver in 2012 and bronze in 2016. Her mom, Jewish Olympian Myriam Jerusalmi, won bronze at the 1996 Olympics in kayak slalom. Jerusalmi now coaches her daughter.
Lilia Akhaimova won gold with Team Russia in the women’s team gymnastics competition on day four of the Games.
Akhaimova, who is competing in her first Olympics, earned the top score on vault during the women’s gymnastics team finals, helping propel the Russian Olympic Committee, aka Team Russia, to the gold medal.
Team Israel won bronze in the mixed judo event on day eight of the competition.
After a disappointing showing in individual judo events, Team Israel took home a bronze after defeating the Russian Olympic Committee in the inaugural judo mixed team event. Team Germany, too, won a bronze in the competition, in one of the Games’ few ties.
The win was emotional for many on the team. Sagi Muki said, “Everyone here gave their heart and soul, and that is what we won here.” The bronze is Israel’s sixth-ever medal in judo.