Windsurfer Gal Fridman Wins Israel's First Olympic Gold Medal

Shimrit Berman, Haaretz Correspondent
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Israel's Gal Fridman kisses his Gold medal after the Men's Mistral windsurfer sailing event at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Wednesday Aug. 25, 2004.Credit: AP
Shimrit Berman, Haaretz Correspondent

ATHENS - A moment after it was all over, Gal Fridman let out a tremendous roar. "I knew it before the finish," the Israeli windsurfer explained later. "I knew the gold medal was mine."

Fridman jumped into the water, seated himself on his sailboard, and clearly didn't know what to do. Dozens of photographers called out to him to smile, and somebody tossed him an Israeli flag. Fridman - who had promised everyone before the race that he would bring home Israel's historic first Olympic gold medal - appeared stunned.

He finished the final race in second place, while Brazil's Ricardo Santos, who on the eve of the race had led by three points, was pushed to 17th place and finished fourth overall. Nikos Kaklamanakis of Greece finished in 10th place and took the silver medal. Nick Dempsey of Britain won bronze.

Fridman's shock only intensified by evening. After receiving the gold medal from International Olympic Committee member Alex Giladi, and after singing the national anthem Hatikva, the ceremony turned into an event that is hard to describe. Most of the audience descended on the awards podium, enveloping the silver and bronze medalists along with Fridman.

Education, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat also came down to the podium, and was caught in the onslaught of people. "An entire country is happy now," she said. "Gal raised Israel on a crest, and it's the whole country's victory."

The awards ceremony Wednesday night wasn't the first time Fridman sang the national anthem Wednesday. A few minutes after completing his 11th and final race, Fridman, his coach Gur Steinberg, and teammate Lee Korzits rehearsed for the evening. "We couldn't hold back," laughed Fridman. "We waited so many years, and now it's happened."

His girlfriend of nine years, Michal Peleg, said that Gal had seemed "too calm, nonchalant. I looked for the enthusiasm before the race, the excitement. He was totally cool. I came to Athens because Gal promised me we'd hear the anthem."

The race itself went according to plan. "I was into it - I was so focused on the target," Fridman said earlier. "If a negative thought accidentally popped up, I gave it the boot."