“I still can’t believe half of what has happened here. I’m so excited. I am the first woman to return to Israel with a goal medal. I am so proud to represent the country.”
Linoy Ashram, the Golden Girl of Rhythmic Gymnastics couldn’t believe that she was an Olympic Gold Medalist. Her victory was no fluke and it wasn’t luck as some may want to describe it. It was good old fashioned hard work for years and years to reach the pinnacle of her sport.
Heading into the Tokyo Games Ashram was ranked number one in the world in swirling the hoop, juggling the clubs, lofting the ball high into the air and twirling the ribbon to the delight of her fans.
There was no question to most that although this was her medal to lose, despite Russia, the Avreina Twins and Alina Harnasko from Belarus having a stranglehold on the event for decades. But Ashram came into the games with her head held up high and in magnificent shape although the Olympics had been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world over the course of the last year and a half.
Ashram explained that there was absolutely no pressure as she worked towards her ultimate goal, “I felt absolutely no pressure whatsoever. I only felt the push and support from the entire people of Israel behind me. There was nothing that out me in a position that I would come into the Games in fear. It was everyone’s support that drove me to succeed. I felt pride in representing the country and I came to Tokyo focussed so that if there was any pressure it would only influence me for the good. There are so many people who love me and support me.”
Although Ashram says that there was no pressure, one could not think that after a disappointing start to the finals qualification on Friday when she had all kinds of issues throughout the hoop rotation would cause her to wilt knowing how much ground she now had to make up. However, after plummeting all the way down to 16th place in after the first qualification round, Ashram took a deep breath and took it step by step to work her way all the way back up to an incredible third place heading into Saturday’s finals.
“I know that on the first day of the competition, my opening exercise was not very good. Perhaps it was the pressure, but there was something strange that overcame me when I got out on the mat that made me lose focus. My coach Ayelet Zoosman knew exactly what to say to me at just the right moment that brought me back into focus in a split second. I then was able to do my three remaining exercises very well and make sure I made my way into the top 10 to advance to the finals.”
Ashram made a point to acknowledge time and time again both her coach Ayelet Zoosman and teammate Nikol Zelikman who were both overwhelmed in seeing their fellow Israeli on the top of the podium and she knows full well that without the pair there may have been no chance to take home a gold medal.
“Ayelet has been with me for every moment. She goes over each and every one of my routines and is just everything for me. I have learnt so much from her. I want to thank my partner throughout, Nikol Zelikman that has been with me the entire time. Everyone can see how we support one another every single second and it’s just incredible to be able to experience this with her. There isn’t just me and Ayelket or Ayelet and Nikol. We are truly a team that supports each other to the end. We are together as one. Each one picks up the other.”
The Russian Olympic Committee raised issue following Ashram’s victory due to the fact that the Israeli had dropped the ribbon in her final routine. In their minds that should have been more than enough for Dina Averina to vault over the Sabra and into first place, but that was not to be due to the fact that Ashram’s first three rotations placed her in front of the Russian by a minuscule .15 points ahead of the 3 time world champion.
With Russians around the globe heading to social media showing their displeasure with the judges scores and calling the results farcical and in some cases raising anti-semitic trope, Ashram brushed it aside and didn’t even want to entertain the complaints from others including Averina herself in challenging the scores herself including the final rotation which was the ribbon.
“I don’t look at the other competitors and on their scores. I was focussed just on myself and my scores, what I received and what I did, not at anyone else. At the end of the day, I did what I did and I scored what I scored. There’s no one in the world right now that is more satisfied and fulfilled as me.”
After breaking the Russians grip on the sport, Ashram knew very well where her performance had now placed not only herself but Rhythmic Gymnastics on the world stage as she took a line right out of Tal Brody, the Maccabi Tel Aviv European Champion’s playbook.
“We are on the map and our sport is on the map. If up until now this sport was just for Eastern Europeans, it can now be said that this is a sport for all. My result has opened the way for many countries that never thought in their lives that they would be able to reach such results. This can only motivate one to continue to invest and that everyone can dream that they can make it to the top with hard work.
Ashram will now take a bit of a break and decide if she will compete at the next Olympic Games in 2024 in Paris. But the chances are good that she will as thousands of youngsters are now looking up to her as a leader and role model in modesty and success.
“I feel a bit like Wonder Woman. Even Gal Gadot who plays Wonder Woman in the movies sent me a message right before the competition which got me so excited. It inspired me to do the best that I could. This is the most staying moment in my life. I only dreamed of making it to the Olympics, not to stand atop the podium in first place. But it’s all thanks to everyone who supported me. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when I arrive back in Israel.”