August 8, 2021 – Tokyo. The scene: The Olympic semifinals. I have been training for this exact moment for five years. I take a deep breath, step onto the mat, the music starts and – the hoop drops. A whole lifetime of expectation, and the hoop drops on the first exercise.
Within seconds, I could see the terrible scenario unfold. As both spectator and athlete, I am already well aware of what a mistake like that can do. With my own eyes, I had witnessed mental collapses that affected competitions, careers even. The second that the hoop fell, the entire world froze, and I knew that I had a hundredth of a second to determine the future. Not only the future of the exercise, but my own future at the Olympics, the future of my career, the future of my life.
So I reminded myself. Yes, the hoop dropped but I am Linoy Ashram, and I am much more than a dropped hoop. I am me. I am my capabilities. Without looking at them, I also knew that I had my trainers with me who believed in me, who had given me tools to overcome, and with those feelings, I grabbed the hoop and continued.
With this self-belief and self-confidence, I moved on to the subsequent exercises. That was what put me in the finals, despite the difficult start, and that was what led me to the biggest and most important win of my life.
There is no doubt in my mind that no less than training, than the support of my parents and my trainer, than my professionalism, diligence and hard work, it was my self-confidence that played the decisive role in turning me into an Olympic champion. It played a vital part in the grand final and it had played no less vital a role for the decade and more that had preceded it.
Back then, I was a girl of around 10, on the training mat at Rishon Lezion. Not the tallest, not the slimmest – different-looking from the other girls, most if not all of whom had come from Eastern Europe. The Russian language held sway in the gymnasium, and it seemed as though no one really believed in my chance of progressing, of succeeding and certainly not of winning an Olympic medal one day.
But even at that stage, I already had a safety net of people who believed in me. They were people who gave me self-confidence that reverberated in my mind emphasizing to me that I was capable. I had my family who made sure to remind me, whenever I needed reminding, of just how strong I am, just how competent I am if I just persist, if I just continue believing. And I believed.
The importance of self-confidence, especially in young women and girls
I UNDERSTOOD it then; I experienced it on the mat in Tokyo. I believe in it now, more than ever – just how important self-confidence is in our lives – and mainly in the lives of young women and girls.
That is also the reason why I was so pleased to become a mentor for the social mission that is being directed by Always, my sponsors in recent years. It’s the Academy of Self-Confidence. This is a pilot that arose out of a collaboration with the Shavot organization, which aims specifically to empower young girls of bat mitzvah age (12).
And this is not for nothing. As a brand ambassador who took upon herself the task of empowering young women years ago, I already know that international research, as well as an Israeli survey that was conducted in 2019, have indicated that during puberty, young women experience a decline in their self-confidence and in their sense of their ability to succeed.
More than 90% of young women reported a decline in their self-confidence. It happens to almost everyone and the impact has been proven to be deep and long-lasting.
Low self-esteem causes girls to avoid tasks in which they might not succeed and many girls who later become women do not achieve their potential, which, at the end of the day, leads to a preservation of gender inequality in society. From salary discrepancies, via lack of representation of women in senior positions, and to exclusion and violence against women.
And therefore, the importance of this is paramount. I work toward this goal every day as I train young girls on the Israeli national [Olympics] team. I hope to succeed with the Academy of Self-Confidence. The goal is to create a community of enterprising and supportive young women who will assist as many girls as possible to believe in themselves. I am very proud of this project, and I hope that it will expand into more schools, in more cities.
Life has taught me that belief in oneself can enable you to break glass ceilings, can bring you to the summit, can help you to reach the top stop of the most important podium in the world; and yes, even if you dropped a hoop in the very first exercise.
Believe in yourself, always.
The writer won the Olympic Gold Medal in rhythmic gymnastics at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo (which took place in 2021, due to the postponement caused by COVID-19).