Noam Gershony has every reason to be the proudest person on earth.
you would be hard-pressed to find a more modest and down-to-earth sportsman than
the London 2012 Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair-tennis.
get an athlete talking down his achievements the way Gershony did when The
spoke to him this week to inform him that he had been chosen by
the readers as the Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2012.
fact, Gershony genuinely believes there are others who deserve the accolade far
more than he does.
“It is slightly embarrassing because I don’t think
that I deserve to be the sports personality of the year,” he told the
“There are people who underwent a much more significant process and
deserve far more recognition than I do. I was lucky that I won the gold medal,
but there were amazing athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic delegations that I
was honored just to be on the same team with.
“So to receive an award
like this is beyond an honor because I feel there are others who deserve it
Gershony edged soccer coach Ran Ben-Shimon, who guided Ironi
Kiryat Shmona to an unlikely Premier League championship last season, with just
under 30 percent of the vote in the poll. Maccabi Tel Aviv and former Russia
coach David Blatt finished in third place ahead of gymnast Alex Shatilov and
last year’s winner, windsurfer Lee Korzits.
But it was Gershony who
finished at the top of the pack in a year that saw him go from complete
anonymity to national hero.
“I would like to thank everyone who voted for
me,” said Gershony, who won the gold medal in the Quad wheelchair-tennis
tournament in London. “This is a great honor. It is strange to me that people
still remember my gold medal. Paralympic sports aren’t really that popular so it
is a great honor to be remembered and receive this tribute.”
story provides a unique example of the triumph of the human spirit over
The 29-year-old’s moment of glory arrived just six years after
he almost lost his life during the 2006 Lebanon War.
serious injuries when his Apache helicopter crashed to the ground near Ramot
Naftali after a collision with another helicopter.
Gershony and co-pilot
Ran Yehoshua Kochva were making their way towards the Lebanese border to assist
IDF troops on the ground.
Kochva was killed, while Gershony was rushed to
hospital with lifethreatening injuries.
He underwent a long and arduous
recovery process and his crowning moment arrived on September 8 when he claimed
a 6-3, 6-1 win over world No. 1 David Wagner to become the first Israeli to win
a Paralympic gold since 2004.
“When I was told about the option of
setting the Olympic criteria it sounded ridiculous to me,” said Gershony, who
also won a bronze medal in the Quad wheelchair doubles tournament with Shraga
“And even when I qualified, I only came to the Paralympics for
the special experience and in the hope of representing Israel with as much honor
“I play sport for fun and for the soul. I never started to
take part in sport to compete and to win medals.”
Gershony, who won the
French Open at Roland Garros earlier this year to rise to become the world’s No.
2 ranked player, a position he still occupies today, admitted that the gold
medal changed his life, although he hopes it didn’t change him as a
“The gold medal resulted in all kinds of situations I wouldn’t
have expected to happen to me had I not won the medal, but I try to keep
everything in proportion,” he said.
“It is fun to win a medal and to
represent Israel in honor and to have the national anthem played for you, but
I’m still the same person. I love the same things and do the same
It has changed my everyday life, but I hope that it hasn’t
Gershony did not enjoy all the publicity and attention he
received after his triumph, but he does acknowledge the advantages of
“I really enjoyed my previous anonymity and privacy and I lost that
slightly, but now that it is back I can also enjoy the small things that come
with the publicity,” said Gershony, who has become a popular public speaker both
in Israel and abroad.
“I have been traveling and sharing my story with
people. I’m not trying to change people’s lives, but I’ve been told that people
do draw strength and inspiration from my story and that is nice to
Gershony was as surprised as anyone at scaling the top of the
podium in London.
“I came to the Paralympics with very low expectations,”
“I had some previous success, but these were my first
Paralympics and I didn’t have that much international experience. The
Paralympics are also very stressful so I didn’t know what to expect and how
things would work. I was very lucky.”
While luck plays a part in any
sporting feat, there is little doubt that Gershony was as deserving as any
athlete who won a medal at the 2012 Games.
“It is a feeling that is hard
to describe,” he said of the moment he realized he had won the
“It was an amazing experience. It is difficult to describe
the force of the emotions. It was something I never previously experienced and
will probably never experience again.”
Gershony has plenty more years of
potential success ahead of him, but he is currently enjoying his time away from
the court, something he has fully earned.
“The period before the
Paralympics and the Games themselves were very intense and full of pressure so I
needed a bit of a break from competitive tennis,” he explained. “I’m still not
making any big decisions ahead of Rio 2016. At the moment I feel good just
playing for fun and not training for a competition.
“You should have a
craving for the game, which I don’t have at the moment due to the intense period
and the amazing unexpected achievement,” he added.
“They say that the
hunger always returns to a competitive athlete at some stage, but we’ll see.”