London Diary: Dreaming of a gymnastics medal

A medal for gymnast Shatilov will be the 8th in Israel’s history, but in many ways, it will also be a first.

Alex Shatilov 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Alex Shatilov 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Let me start off by stating that every one of Israel’s seven Olympic medals was a tremendous triumph, with each ranking among the greatest achievements in Israeli sports history.
There is nothing that can detract from the accomplishments of Yael Arad (silver medal, Barcelona 1992), Oren Smadja (bronze, Barcelona 1992), Gal Fridman (bronze, Atlanta 1996; gold, Athens 2004), Michael Kolganov (bronze, Sydney 2000), Arik Ze’evi (bronze, Athens 2004) and Shahar Zubari (bronze, Beijing 2008).
However, there are medals, and then there are “medals,” and I’m not talking about the obvious difference between gold, silver and bronze.
In my subjective opinion, should Alex Shatliov win a medal in the gymnastics floor final on Sunday, whether it is gold, silver or bronze, it would rank as the greatest feat in Israeli Olympic history.
A place on the podium is far from guaranteed for Shatilov, but never has an Israeli athlete entered a major Olympic final with such a realistic shot at a medal.
Now before all the judo, windsurfing and kayaking aficionados get all upset with me I’d like to reaffirm my utter admiration for each of Israel’s six medalists.
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However, a medal for Shatilov on Sunday would be different.
I have endless respect for each and every Olympic sport (well, maybe apart from synchronized swimming), but gymnastics is not just another Olympic sport.
It is one of THE Olympic sports, trailing only swimming and athletics in levels of interest and importance.
While windsurfing and judo are niche sports, completely ignored in many countries, any delegation which respects itself will make sure it includes a gymnast.
For much of its history, Israeli sports’ struggling infrastructure was unable to produce a top level gymnast.
Shatilov basically fell out of the sky like manna from heaven.
He may have been slightly rough to start with, but a diamond as large and pure as Shatilov was always going to sparkle at some stage, sooner or later.
In Shatilov’s case it was sooner, winning a bronze medal in the floor at the World and European Championships as a 22-year-old three years ago.
He was the first Israeli to achieve that and basically everything he has gone on to accomplish since has been unprecedented by local standards.
Shatilov also won a bronze in the floor in the World’s last year as well as picking up another silver (2011) and a bronze (2012) in the Europeans.
His 12th-place finish in the all-around final in London on Wednesday was as an encouraging sign as you could ask for before the floor final.
Shatilov, who advanced to the final from fourth place with a score of 15.633 points, recorded the highest score in the floor of all 24 all-around finalists, registering 15.600.
His consistency is sensational, and a similar score on Sunday could well be worth a place of the podium.
The day he has been waiting for has finally arrived.
A medal for Shatilov will be the eighth in Israel’s history, but in many ways, it will also be a first, journeying local sports into uncharted territory.