Israeli Sporting Moments of the Decade: No. 2 - Gal Fridman claims Olympic gold in Athens

Israeli Sporting Moments

gal fridman gold medal 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gal fridman gold medal 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
There is something about an Olympic gold medal which sets it apart from every other triumph in sports. Maybe it is the history of the Games or perhaps the legendary former winners. But regardless of the reason the allure of the gold medal is simply irresistible. Just last year we saw the likes of Roger Federer and Kobe Bryant exhibit true joy after they claimed an Olympic gold in Beijing, even though the Games are supposed to be no more than a sideshow for tennis and basketball players, especially ones so successful. Therefore, it is no surprise that all of Israel was transfixed on the Aegean Sea in Greece on August 25, 2004. Gal Fridman entered the final day of the Mistral windsurfing competition of the Athens Olympics needing to finish at least four places above Brazil's Ricardo Santos to become Israel's first gold medalist. Since Yael Arad became Israel's first Olympic medalist in 1992, winning the silver, only four more of her countrymen, including Fridman, had scaled the podium, but none had won gold. After 108 years of the modern Olympics and 52 years since Israel first took part in the Games, Fridman was one mammoth effort away from an eternal place among the country's greatest athletes. The then 29-year-old had already tasted Olympic glory in 1996, winning the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. However, Fridman only had gold on his mind on that fateful Wednesday morning. In the opening moments of the race, Fridman and Santos were neck and neck with the front pack of sailors. However, realizing that Santos's goal was to remain within four positions of him, Fridman dropped back before making the most of a change in the wind to bolt past the stunned Brazilian. None of the gold medal contenders could catch Fridman after that. The Israeli would finish the final race in second place and, after crossing the line and seeing that Santos was well behind him, he thrust his arms into the air in celebration before taking a victory dip with his coach and brother. "It was like I was in a dream, completely cut off from everything else and totally focused," an emotional Fridman said. Later in the evening, came the moment few Israeli sports fans will ever forget. Fridman climbed to the very top of the podium to receive his gold along with an olive branch wreath. The Israeli flag was then hoisted to the top of the flagpole for the first time in Olympic history and the excitement was clearly evident among all Israelis present as they rose to sing Hatikva. It is unlikely Fridman will forever remain Israel's only gold medalist. But on that memorable day in Greece he ensured that he will never be forgotten after becoming his country's first Olympic gold winner. This is the fourth in a five-part series in which we count down the most memorable moments in Israeli sports over the past decade. Our number one moment of the last 10 years will be revealed next week, in the December 31 issue.