Team Israel compete using ribbons at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 20, 2016. Mike Blake, Reuters

Israeli Rhythmic Gymnasts Break Into Finals, Sparking Hopes for Third Medal in Rio

Despite scandal over coach's alleged violence toward team member, athletes pull off stellar performance and put Israel in finals for third time in a row.

Israel's hope for a third Olympic medal in Rio made an impressive showing on Thursday with the rhythmic gymnastics team, breaking into the field's final after wowing the judges to make it into the sixth place.

The team, led by controversial coach Ira Vigdorchik, came in seventh place in the first ribbons rounds with a score of 17.250. In the second clubs and hoops round, they attained the score of 17.633. The top eight teams qualify for the final.

After the two bronze medals in judo, the team is Israel's last hope for another medal in Brazil. The five gymnasts competing are Alona Koshevatskiy, Yuval Filo, Ekaterina Levina, Ida Mayrin and Karina Lykhvar.

Mike Blake, Reuters

In the first round, the Israeli team attained the score of 17.250, placing only seventh. Vigdorchik's team knew they had to pull off a stellar performance to make safely into the top eight which get to go onto the finals. Competing with a soundtrack which mixed together a psalm for Jerusalem and the Mediterranean-Israeli hit "She just wants to dance" the girls took to the mat for their second routine, involving six clubs and two hoops. The bit passed without incident and earned the team 17.633 points, which, coupled with the initial result help put Israel in the finals for the third time in a row, placing sixth overall and well poised to aim for a medal in Rio.

A month ago it was hard to imagine the team would get its act together in time for Rio after a crisis over alleged abuse by their coach Vigdorchik. The girls' parents signed a letter lamenting the coach's tactics after it was revealed that she allegedly kicked one of the team members a day before they took the world championship in Kazakhstan.

Vigdorchik is a colorful figure in the world of gymnastics, infamous for her grueling training regime and strict coaching style, but as famous for turning the team into a force to be reckoned with. The incident in which she allegedly kicked Ekaterina Levina was the only known case of physical contact with the players and her current position as head coach is still under restrictions due to it.

Thomas Coex, AFP

Nonetheless, when the team finished their second routine, the athletes ran into Vigdorchik's open arms, hugging her and head choreographer Ayelet Zusman, pleased with what was the 18 and 19-year-old athletes' most important games of their careers.

On Sunday at 5 P.M. local time, Israel will compete in the finals, the second team slated to take to the mat.

Earlier this year, the team won a gold medal for the first time in an international competition in the clubs and hoops category, at the European Championships which were held in Holon, Israel. The team also won a silver medal for their ribbons routine.

Mike Blake, Reuters
Mike Blake, Reuters
Rebecca Blackwell, AP
Thomas Coex, AFP

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