Israeli Surfer Wins First Israeli Olympic Gold Medal

Windsurfing champion Gal Friedman won a gold medal in the Athens Olympics today - Israel's first gold medal in Olympic history. "I did it for the People of Israel," he said seconds afterwards.

Contact Editor
, | updated: 16:27

Windsurfing champion Gal Friedman won a gold medal in the Athens Olympics today - Israel's first gold medal in Olympic history. It was Israel's second medal this year, after Judoka Arik Ze'evi won a bronze last week. Friedman, from Pardes Hanna-Karkur, also made history by becoming Israel's first athlete to win two Olympic medals; he won a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Friedman had to finish his last race three places ahead of his closest competitor, Ricardo Santos of Brazil, in order to win the gold. He finished in second place, and when he turned around and saw Santos way behind - Santos ultimately finished 17th, and did not win even the bronze medal - he took out the Israeli flag he takes on all his races and began celebrating. Nearby, the Israeli team began singing HaTikvah, Israel's unofficial national anthem - which will be played for the first time at an Olympic event at 8 PM tonight when Friedman is awarded the gold medal.

Friedman explained afterwards that his strategy was to stay close to the Brazilian, even at the expense of falling behind: "It wasn't enough for me to beat him; I had to win by three places. He was trying to stay even with me, so I 'dragged' him to stay back and then I started to pull ahead; he kept thinking only about staying even with me, but then when he fell behind, he lost himself; it shows how tricky this is..." He said he received "great energy" from the support he experienced from Israel, on the internet and in the newspapers: "I feel, literally, as if I had a whole country pushing me from behind." Gal, which means 'wave' in Hebrew, said, "I expressed confidence the whole way, not because I am arrogant, but because I really had the confidence, and I knew that without confidence I couldn't win."