Taekwondo Fighter Wins First Olympic Medal for Israel in Tokyo

Itamar Katzir
Amnon Harari
Tokyo
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Avishag Semberg in Tokyo, today.
Avishag Semberg in Tokyo, today.Credit: MURAD SEZER/ REUTERS
Itamar Katzir
Amnon Harari
Tokyo

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“I told myself I wanted it more,” said Taekwondo fighter Avishag Semberg Saturday after becoming the first Israeli to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Semberg defeated the former European champion, Turkey's Rukiye Yldrm 27-22 in the women's -49 kg event, winning the bronze medal for Israel.

After being in the lead during most of the fight, Samberg fell behind in the middle of the decisive third round, but managed to retake the lead and ultimately win. "I knew I could give another kick and another kick and another kick, simply because I wanted it more,” Samberg said as she described what went through her mind in those moments.

“She simply outdid herself,” said Israeli Olympic Committee CEO Gili Lustig, unable to contain his excitement.  “We had a very, very successful day today on all fronts – the most successful we've had – and the medal gave it another really sweet and even surprising taste, because it really was unexpected."

Shira Rishony of Israel celebrates after winning, in Tokyo, today. Credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS

After all, Semberg’s name did not appear on the short list of athletes predicted to medal by the Israeli Olympic Committee before the games began. 

“Others may be surprised. I am not,” Semberg said when asked after her win whether she thinks hers was the most surprising Israeli win at an Olympics to date. “My coach, my family and my partner have always believed in me and that’s what matters.”   

By virtue of winning bronze, Samberg will receive a grant of 250,000 shekels from the Israeli Olympic Committee, and her coach, Yehiam Sharabi, will receive 125,000 shekels. 

Sports Minister Chili Tropper applauded Samberg, saying that she “made the dream a reality and brought [Israel] its first medal with an amazing opening to the Olympics. When I met her before the Olympics I found her to be a humble, ambitious athlete ready to do anything to reach her goals. Avishag - we are proud of you!”

Earlier on Saturday, Semberg had defeated Puerto Rico's Victoria Stambauch 22-2, paving the way for Israel's first Olympic medal in the competition.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Lightweight judoka Shira Rishony missed her chance on Saturday to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Rishony, who competes in the -48 kg Women's event, lost the fight for the bronze medal against Ukraine's Daria Bilodid in the final moments of the fight. She finished the competition in fifth place.

The Israeli judoka, who lost her quarterfinals fight to the former world champion Mongolia's Urantsetseg Munkhbat, got a second chance at a medal through a repêchage contest, beating Taiwan's Chen-Hao Lin to have a chance at a medal.

During the elimination round of 16, Rishony defeated Spain's Julia Figueroa, a bronze medal winner in the last world championship.

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