Alex Shatilov may have only recently celebrated his 26th birthday, but he already cemented his place as one of the greatest Israeli athletes of all time on Saturday when he won the gold medal in the floor exercise final at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Moscow.

Shatilov had claimed a medal in the floor final in each of his past three appearances in the Europeans, a silver in 2011 and bronze in 2009 and 2012. He also owns two bronze medals from the World Championships (2009, 2011), but until Saturday he had never scaled the top of the podium.

“Nothing can be compared to this feeling,” said Shatilov, who finished the floor final at the London Olympics in sixth place. “This is the most satisfying of feelings. I’ve waited for this moment for a long time. It makes you realize that all your work was worthwhile.”

Shatilov recorded a result of 15.333 points, identical to his score at London 2012 last summer, and the same as Britain’s Max Whitlock, who also won a gold medal in Moscow.

Despite the joy at finishing in first, Shatilov, who will also compete in the High Bar final on Sunday, has already got his sights set on Olympic glory in three years time.

“This is the happiest moment of my career, but I’m targeting greater success,” said Shatilov.

“Had I not believed I could claim success at the Olympics I wouldn’t have continued to compete. There are ups and downs in sports but now I’m targeting a medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.”

Shatilov will receive a NIS 50,000 bonus from the Olympic Committee of Israel for Saturday’s triumph, with his coach Sergei Vaisburg to get half the amount.

“You brought the country a lot of honor,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a phone call with Shatilov. “Your accomplishment is extraordinary and we wish you much success in Rio. I’m certain that you will represent us with honor.”

There was further success for Israel in Moscow on Saturday, with 16-year-old Ofir Nezer ending the women’s Vault final in fourth place with a score of 14.166 points.

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