Two years after coming tantalizingly close to scaling the podium, Donald Sanford made history on Friday night when he became the first Israeli to win a medal in a sprint event at the European Championships, finishing the 400-meter final in third place in Zurich, Switzerland.
Sanford broke the Israeli record for the second time in three days, clocking a time of 45.27 seconds on his way to the bronze.
The 27-year-old California native, who received Israeli citizenship three years ago after marrying Israeli basketball player Danielle Dekel, improved his national record by 12 hundredths of a second two days after bettering the previous best by 14 hundredths.
Sanford came a mere nine hundredths from winning an historic medal at the European Championships in Helsinki two years ago, finishing in fourth place.
He arrived at these championships in excellent form after breaking the Israeli record in Belgium three weeks ago, clocking a time of 45.53 seconds.
Sanford entered the final stretch in fifth place on Friday, but he picked up the pace as he neared the finish line and became just the second Israeli ever to claim a medal at the European Athletics Championships.
Alex Averbukh won the gold medal in the pole vault in 2002 and 2006.
“I’m an athlete and I’m competitive and I went for it,” Sanford said upon his return to Israel on Saturday. “I didn’t think I would break the record again in the final, but I felt good and my legs felt good. I executed the race exactly like I planned. I gave it my best shot and it worked out.
“This medal is my ultimate gift to the State of Israel, to its citizens and mainly to its soldiers.”
On Sunday, Israel’s Ma’ayan Shahaf will take part in the high-jump final in Zurich. Shahaf only needed to clear 1.85m, which she did with her first attempt in Friday’s qualifying, to book a place in a major final for the first time in her career.
Shahaf failed in all three of her attempts to jump 1.89m, but still did enough to be among the 15 finalists.
“I’m happy that I reached the final, but not with the way I did so,” said Shahaf.
“I didn’t really manage to jump the way I can and the way I want to.”
Also Sunday, Israelis Barihun Webe, Zohar Zimro, Yamaharan Yosef and Amir Ramon will all take part in the marathon in the final day of the championships in Zurich.