Israel gets first gold medal in 52-year Olympic history

Fridman's victory `a time to smile' for Israelis as country celebrates


Athens 2004

August 26, 2004|By Dave Hyde | Dave Hyde,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

GLYFADA, Greece - None of them had heard the song before at an Olympics, not at their first one in 1952 or their tragic one in 1972 or any of the years before or after.

And the funny part even after the crowd stood last night, and the Hatikvah played over the loudspeakers, is that the anthem still couldn't be heard as Israel's flag rose up a center Olympic pole for the first time.

Their voices carried too loudly. Their words swelled so proudly. The several hundred Israelis singing at this golden ceremony in this small amphitheater on the edge of the Saronic Gulf, as well as the several hundred more who stood outside the gates, overpowered the music with their chorus, their emotion and surely their decades of waiting through murderous suffering and sporting disappointment for one Olympic-sized celebration.

There were American Jews and Greek Jews singing, ones wrapped in flags and others wrapped in hugs singing, some swaying as they sung and others raising arms up high. And there, at the epicenter of emotion, stood Gal Fridman. The 28-year-old windsurfer had stopped Tel Aviv for two hours while competing yesterday, had to put the prime minister on hold after winning and now stood on the country's first gold medal platform, overwhelmed by "the thought I made so many people happy."

Fifty-two years and five medals. One silver and four bronze. That was Israel's Olympic count when he took to the water yesterday, but hardly its Olympic history.

Munich is its history. The 1972 murder of 11 Israeli Olympians is its memory.

That's why Fridman says the first thing he'll do upon returning home is take this gold to the Tel Aviv memorial to those slain Olympians.

Fans wrapped him in flags, hugged him from both sides and took photographs with him. There surely has never been a celebration quite like this.

You could hear emotion, as from Yehuda Maayan, the Israeli sailing team leader: "I can't say the words in English - not in any language - of how happy we are."

You could hear defiance, as from Israeli Olympic official Zvi Varshaviak: "They want to kill us, but we are here. And we have a gold medal."

You heard perspective, from another Israeli official, Alex Glady: "No one is expecting the situation in the Middle East to change because of this. But this is a few moments of joy to people who live very hard lives. This is a time to smile."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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