Israeli Gymnast Artem Dolgopyat Makes History, Nabs Gold Medal at Tokyo Olympics

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Artem Dolgopyat of Israel, performs on the floor exercise during the artistic gymnastics men's apparatus final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, today
Artem Dolgopyat of Israel, performs on the floor exercise during the artistic gymnastics men's apparatus final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, todayCredit: AP
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Haaretz

Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat has won the gold medal for the floor exercise at the Tokyo Games – Israel's first at the 2020 Olympics.

Dolgopyat started strong, with one small error alone and no major mistakes. His routine, which was the highest level of difficulty, guaranteed him a high score. 

Israel's Artem Dolgopyat, center, celebrates with his team after winning the floor event of the artistic gymnastics men's floor exercise final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.Credit: LOIC VENANCE - AFP

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"It was my biggest dream, and I did it," Dolgopyat said after the tournament. "I made mistakes in the routine, I thought I had blown it, but I told myself to go all the way."

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett congratulated Dolgopyat for his great achievement. "Thanks Artem! We've made history. I congratulate Artem for winning a gold medal. It's a great pride for all of Israel's citizens."

President Isaac Herzog congratulated Dolgopyat in a video call. "Artem, you've made history. You understand that you're number one in the world?" He said. "The State of Israel is very, very proud of you, and wants to see you here in Jerusalem soon." He added that he is an inspiration for Israeli sports fans. "You're a source of great pride."

Dolgopyat thanked the president, saying "I'm very happy that Israel saw it. I did this for the whole nation of Israel, and I'm proud to represent Israel."

Even though his performance was not as strong as previous ones, he won a score of 14.933, the same as Spain's Rayderley Zapata, but won thanks to his high level of execution.     

Spain's Rayderley Zapata, Israel's Artem Dolgopyat and China's Ruoteng Xiao pose during the medal ceremony.Credit: LOIC VENANCE - AFP
Israel's Artem Dolgopyat competes in the floor event of the artistic gymnastics men's floor exercise final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.Credit: LOIC VENANCE - AFP

Zapata was the second gymnast to perform, and did an excellent job, having just one small error, garnering a score of 14.933.

Yul Moldauer of the United States, the third gymnast to perform the floor exercise, won a score of 13.533, due to the relatively low difficulty level of his routine.

Nikita Nagornyy of Russia, who finished preliminaries with a score of 15.066 and won a bronze medal in the men's artistic individual all-around. Nagornyy performed his signature element, but landed badly, and the rest of his routine fell flat. After another stumble, he received a score of 13.066.

Ryu Sunghyun of South Korea was the only gymnast at the preliminaries to present a floor exercise with a higher difficulty level than Dolgopyat. He and Nagornyy were considered Dolgopyat's main rivals. Ryu made a small mistake when he placed both feet outside the designated area, and finished with 14.233 points.

Israel's Artem Dolgopyat competes in the floor event of the artistic gymnastics men's floor exercise final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, today.Credit: LOIC VENANCE - AFP

Dolgopyat ascended to the final after he finished the preliminaries with a score of 15.200 which put him in first place and raised his chances for another medal for Israel.

The 24-year-old artistic gymnast won silver medals for the floor exercise at the 2017 and 2019 world championships, and a gold in the same event at the European championship in 2020.

Dolgopyat’s road to this point was a long one. He competed with chronic back pain for years, and in 2016 he took a three-month break from gymnastics. When he returned, it was at full strength, and he made a name for himself in this campaign as one of the world's prominent floor gymnasts. He came in second to the world champion in 2017 and 2019 – a first-time achievement for Israel. He also won the 2020 European championship, and added a bronze medal at the time for parallel bars – an exercise at which he failed at the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers. 

Israel's Artem Dolgopyat poses with his gold medal.Credit: LOIC VENANCE - AFP

He also has enough experience to understand the meaning of the smallest mistakes. At the world championship in 2018, one big step in his last landing brought him down from second place to fifth, keeping him from making it to the podium.

This was Dolgopyat's first Olympic final, but Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov – his teammate and something of a mentor – was there to ease his nerves. Shatilov came in fourth at the London 2012 qualifiers and first in floor during the all-around competition, but finished in sixth at the final. With two Olympic finals in the floor exercise on his resume, he was a calming presence. When Dolgopyat was asked whether Shatilov’s presence had helped, he simply and shyly answered “of course.” 

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