Gorbenko Dares to Dream: Israeli swimmer wins Silver Medal in Qatar

Feb 19, 2024 | Jews in Sports

Anastasia Gorbenko has been a well known quantity for swimming aficionados in the Holy Land for some time despite her only being 20 years of age. Always modest and soft spoken, the Haifa native made huge waves around the world this past week when she won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley at the World Aquatics Championships at Doha, Qatar.

In Israel, those waves showed that Gorbenko will be a real threat for the blue-and-white to bring home a swimming medal at the Olympic Games, but for the rest of the world, giant waves were made when the local fans in Qatar mercilessly booed the Israeli for being just that, an Israeli.

However, while the world may boo, Gorbenko is continuing to make history in a variety of disciplines as she continues to move to the top of the charts and is clearly the number one Sabra in the pool heading to Paris this summer.

Anastasia Gorbenko – Israel Swimming Federation

Whether it’s the backstroke, breaststroke, medley or freestyle, Gorbenko who participated in five different competitions at the 2020 Tokyo Games, is the real deal and all those around her know it.

Gorbenko was born in Haifa to parents who had made Aliyah from Ukraine and grew up just north of the Carmel Mountain in Kiryat Yam before attending the Wingate Institute where she began honing her skills. At the 2018 Youth Olympics, Gorbenko burst onto the scene when she captures a gold medal in the 200 medley in Buenos Aries.

From there it was onto various European and World Championships where she continued to accumulate more and more medals as well as the Tokyo Games where she advanced to the 100 meter backstroke finals, becoming the first Israeli to ever participate in an Olympic Swimming Final.

Gorbenko entered a number of events in Qatar and while she was disappointed in herself in some of the disciplines, winning a silver medal at the World Championships alongside some of the best in the world is a massive accomplishment and one that she will be able to build on when she heads to France in just a few months.

Anastasia Gorbenko – Israel Swimming Federation

But before even going into the competition itself, Gorbenko wanted to dedicate the medal to a friend who is being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, “I dedicate the medal to Matan Angrest who was kidnapped and to his family. He was in my class for three years and it’s surreal that he’s a friend that I would always see in the gym. He is there in Gaza and they don’t know what’s going on with him.”

“I was disappointed by my result in the 200 breaststroke,” Gorbenko said after the entire competition had come to an end. “I had to pick myself up for the 200 backstroke, where I really got the confidence that I could go pretty far. But overall, I wanted to finish the competition knowing that I gave 100% on the last day and that I didn’t give up on myself. This is the first time that I had been in such a long competition and I was able to lift myself up after some rough results, so this is a big step for me as an athlete.”

As she was about to be interviewed after capturing the silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley, boos and jeers rained down on the Israeli but she put the ill will immediately aside, “There were a lot of yelling and boos during the week, but I swim with earplugs and also wear headphones, so I didn’t hear anything. I was nervous and I knew that I could do something special and I was surprised at how much physical pain I was in after the race.”

“But I really didn’t really anything other than a lot of noise because the 400 meters is one of the toughest races and I didn’t understand what was happening. The interviewer, who loves me and Israel, told me to look into his eyes and don’t look at the people in the stands, that I’m here because I deserve it and that I should say what I want to say. I had tears in my eyes, I experienced ups and downs in this competition and finally all of the emotions were released. Only later on did I hear about the boos and jeers, but the other women on the podium hugged me and the other swimmers and coaches cheered me on, so I only heard good things.”

Anastasia Gorbenko – Israel Swimming Federation

Gorbenko was proud to fly the flag of Israel and understood the situation that she was in being in a country that doesn’t have relations with the Holy Land, “The fact that I was here with the Israeli flag was already something that was on their heads, so to say. I bettered my record in the final after a long and hard week, so I’m proud of myself because I didn’t give up. Being here is already special, but finishing on the podium is even that much more significant.”

For the most part, Gorbenko didn’t experience any extraordinary issues thoughout her time in Qatar, “In Doha the people were nice to me, but I didn’t really see many locals. Outside of the pool I wasn’t wearing any official Israel sportswear and I don’t really look Israeli either, so it was fine. I believe most thought that I wasn’t even born in Israel and the local security guards who were around me were enthusiastic about my results as the competition progressed. I felt safe, I didn’t feel that I was being treated differently. Yes, there were looks from time to time, but it’s not something I really paid attention to.”

Gorbenko who has set a number of firsts as an Israeli swimmer also became the first one to win a medal at the World Championships, “It’s very exciting, an honor for the country and even more so on the soil of Qatar. I hope that I opened many doors for those who will come after me and I hope that I’m not the last one and that this is also not my last time. Breaking a glass ceiling like this is important for Israeli swimming and proves that even someone from a small country like Israel you can do anything.”

While some of the top female swimmers in the world didn’t attend this competition due to it being an Olympic year, Gorbenko doesn’t see this accomplishment as one with an asterisk, “It’s crazy to be a world’s runner-up, there’s no asterisk here. You have to be in the right place and at the right time, after all, only three women get medals. I don’t look at it as a different world championship. What’s strange is that it took place in February, in the middle of the training year, but it’s a good sign and experience. It was important for me to prove that I was capable of what I was capable of.”

Anastasia Gorbenko – Israel Swimming Federation

While Gorbenko picked up a medal in the 400 meter medley, that is actually one of the newer disciplines that she has been working on, “I have recently been training for the 400 meter medley because I want to have more options for the Olympic Games. That’s why I will also swim this race in the Olympics. I just started swimming it, I still have a long way to go with it and there is still room for improvement. When I was 12 years old I dreamed of the Olympic Games, I believe that you should dare and dream, no matter where you come from. I proved that anything and everything is possible.”

“I want to say thank you to everyone who watched and cheered from Israel, I know that many of you were under stress, like all of us. I am very, very happy to have won this medal in Qatar with the Israeli flag draped on me. I am proud of myself, it was a long and difficult week with many ups and downs, so to end it with a silver medal is an amazing feeling and brings me a lot of confidence for the Olympic year.”

Sign up for our newsletter


You may also like…


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!