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Gold medalist Linoy Ashram on her Olympic whirlwind and becoming an Israeli icon

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JTA — This summer, Linoy Ashram became the first Israeli woman to win an Olympic gold medal, in any sport, when she eked out a victory in individual rhythmic gymnastics.

But that wasn’t the only history she made at the Tokyo games.

She became only Israel’s third-ever Olympic gold medalist, and the first Israeli rhythmic gymnast to win gold. Ashram’s win also broke a streak of Russian gold medalists going back to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. (And before the five Russian wins: 1996 and 1992 were won by Ukrainian women, and 1988 by a Soviet Union gymnast.)

No big deal, right? The 22-year-old looks back on it with humility.

“I didn’t dream of winning the gold,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I would never have expected that I could do it — I was hoping for the bronze.”

For those who hadn’t been following her triumphs in European tournaments for years, Ashram’s accomplishments in Tokyo made her an Israeli sports icon — one who rose from a working class background in the city of Rishon LeZion, where she grew up training “without infrastructure, without backing,” to the new face of Israel’s Olympic success on the global stage.

“It’s true that this sport is dominated by people from Eastern Europe,” Ashram said. “The best athletes are from there. When I was small, I never imagined that it would be possible to reach their level because it [felt like] their sport. But as I went from competition to competition and I got better, I began to realize that it doesn’t really matter where [you’re from] or who dominates the sport I can still win it because of who I am.”

“I’m very proud of my country and I’m proud to represent my country in the best way that I can,” she added.

As United States gymnastics superstar Simon Biles highlighted with her many mental health-related withdrawals from her contests this year, Olympic competition and stardom is not all fun and lighthearted.

Winning, for Ashram, was in reality “a mixture of feelings.”........

© The Times of Israel

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