“At this time I want to announce my retirement. An athlete must know when it is time to retire and step away. I realized my dream and I reached the top of my profession.”
With those words, Israel’s Golden Girl Linoy Ashram stepped away from the sport that she had taken by storm and climbed all the way up the ladder to the very top just this past summer at the Olympic Games held in Tokyo, Japan.
The Israeli rhythmic gymnast will always be the first. The first Israeli woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics. That is something that has been engraved in the history books for perpetuity.
It’s quite amazing that at the tender age of 22, Ashram can walk off into the sunset as an Olympic champion. In fact, very few athletes in almost any sport have that opportunity – to leave the discipline that they love at the top, but Ashram has been able to do just that.
Ashram took the long road to reach the pinnacle of her sport. She went step by step over the years to prepare herself for that moment in Tokyo. The moment when she would show the world that all of the hard work she had put in and all of the titles she had collected in one competition after the next were worth their weight in gold.
From being the first ever Israeli to win a medal at the World Championships, to participating in the Maccabiah Games and the European Championships, where she won medal after medal in hoop, clubs, ball, ribbon and all-around, Ashram was ready for the biggest challenge of her career.
“Eight months ago, I entered the gymnasium in Tokyo to train and it did no go well,” Ashram began. “I felt my feet shaking and so many thoughts ran through my head. I said to myself that I have reached the moment that I have waited for, the most important event of my life and one that I invested 15 years into. I was petrified that everything would fall apart and I knew that this was the last stop of my career. I can now say that I felt the biggest responsibility in my entire career.”
However, her run to the gold medal didn’t start off the way she had ever imagined it would.
“I’ll never forget my first rotation in Tokyo,” Ashram said. “I never thought in my worst nightmares that in hoop, my strongest discipline, I would do so poorly. I ranked 16th and my coach Ayelet Zoosman said, 'forget about it, just get into the final, it doesn’t matter from whatever place.' I told myself that the worst was now behind me because there was nowhere lower to go as I was at that point already. It was a very long and endless day at the end of which I was in third place which meant I was in the running for a medal.”
From there the world’s No. 1-ranked rhythmic gymnast rolled right into the finals of the all-around competition where she placed first in three of the four rotations as she ran off with the gold over the Averina twin sisters from the Russian Olympic Committee.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would win a gold medal,” Ashram reflected. “But now when it says Olympic champion by my name, I know how worthwhile it all was. I wanted to reach my peak. Even now, eight months later it is still difficult for me to say Olympic champion. I ask myself, who am I, just Linoy Ashram from Rishon Lezion. A gold medal winner? I am still asking myself if it really happened.”
Israel’s first ever Olympic medalist, Yael Arad, who captured a silver medal in judo at the Barcelona Games in 1992 and now serves as the chairperson of the Israel Olympic Committee, understood full well how important Ashram’s accomplishment was.
“Linoy is one of the greats and there is something extraordinary about her. In my eyes she represents the new Israeli athlete. She was born here and grew up here. She moved up the pyramid, going step by step and worked all the way up to the top and succeeded at the highest level. At the age of 22, an athlete can retire after reaching the top, but they don’t retire from the Olympic family.”
Neta Rivkin, a three-time Olympian who was the country’s top ranked rhythmic gymnast for a decade, knows exactly how important Ashram’s contribution to the sport has been over the years.
“It’s a very significant day and one that is very emotional when such a huge gymnast retires. She trained right beside me for many years. What she experienced was a moment where you put everything into achieving a goal and then it happens. Linoy can walk away with her head raised high knowing that she accomplished something that was almost impossible which brought great pride to an entire country. She is a true asset and it’s important that she continues to be a part of this sport.”
Continuing in the sport is what Ashram will now do as she will become a coach and attempt to give the country’s youth what she had received from the many who helped her reach the stars.
“I have decided to continue in the field but on the other side of the mat. My journey to reach gold was difficult, but I am happy that this is what I chose to do in my life. I want to thank my parents, Chedva and Oran, for everything. Without my coach, Ayelet Zoosman, I am certain that I would not be an Olympic Champion. If I could cut the medal in half I would give her one of those parts.”
Zoosman, who accompanied Ashram throughout her illustrious career, was also very emotional as she shared her thoughts on her part of nurturing a champion.
It’s not just the medal, but the emotions throughout the journey that we took together and the new dreams and desires that are now part of rhythmic gymnastics in Israel. All that we learned together and how we worked as one is how we went along this professional journey. There is much more to be done, and I am sure with the help of the entire staff we can reach those goals.”
With a brand-new generation of dreamers about to take to the mat as rhythmic gymnasts, Ashram will have the privilege and opportunity to help guide them as an Olympic champion, as a true role model who has experienced it all.
Linoy’s father, Oran, knows that she will be the perfect person to do just that.
“Linoy now embarks on a new journey and I am confident that she will be successful in that. I told her as a six-year-old that whatever she wants to accomplish, it will happen. But this was a decision solely on her part. Once she reached the top it was time to retire and move on and I am certain that as a coach she will reach new heights.”
As Ashram now steps away from the limelight, she shared her final thoughts on those special days in Japan,.
I felt that an entire nation was on my shoulders. I couldn’t disappoint and I knew that all of the people in the State of Israel were supporting me and that they wanted me to prevail. This really motivated me to succeed. Thanks to my country of Israel for all of the love and support.”