Gymnastics World Championships / Alexander Shatilov Wins Israel's First-ever Medal

Alexander Shatilov won Israel's first-ever World Championship medal yesterday, finishing third in the men's floor exercise in London.

"First of all, I want to rest for a few hours, then go out to celebrate - not too much, but after all, an achievement is an achievement," an outwardly calm Shatilov told Haaretz after chalking up the greatest achievement in the history of Israeli gymnastics.

Marian Dragulescu of Romania struck World Championship gold for the fourth time with 15.700 points; Olympic champion Zou Kai of China earned the silver medal with 15.675 points; and Shatilov took the bronze with 15.575 points, followed by Japan's Kohei Uchimura (15.475) and Makoto Okiguchi (15.425).

The 22-year-old Israeli was considered a potential medalist before the tournament began. This was his third successive World Championship floor exercise final; he finished eighth at last summer's Beijing Olympics, and he already had a bronze from the last European Championship under his belt.

The Uzbekistan-born gymnast, who took up the sport at age five, immigrated to Israel in 2002.

A true professional, he analyzed his final routine and found faults. "My performance was not without mistakes - far from it. In one of my exercises, I made a mistake that prevented me from competing for the gold."

This is the highest point score so far in the young gymnast's career. "Without doubt, this is my best result to date," he said. "My plan prior to the championship, together with my coach Sergei Vaisburg, was to reach the final in both the all-around competition and the floor exercise, which I did. Only after that, did I begin to think about a medal. I'm happy that I won a medal, but even if I hadn't, I would have been satisfied with my performances."

Vaisburg is already planning ahead. "We were under real pressure, and now that pressure is off," he said. "There were 300 gymnasts here - in Beijing there were 96, but sport is full of ups and downs."

Shatilov and Vaisburg will receive financial awards on their return, as do all Israeli athletes who win a medal in a world championship. Sports Minister Limor Livnat personally congratulated them yesterday.

Shatilov will compete twice again this season in the World Cup series, in Croatia and Germany next month. "I have to finish my program for this season - then, to be honest, I wouldn't mind some rest. This has been a tiring season, with a series of good results. My future plans are aimed toward the 2012 Olympic Games," Shatilov concluded.