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Israeli gymnasts fly through world competitions

  • Sport19Oct
Israeli artistic gymnast Artem Dolgopyat, 21, is a strong contender for gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 as he takes the gymnastics world by storm.
by JACK MILNER | Oct 18, 2018

Over the past month, he twice won gold in the World Cup Challenge, first in Hungary on 23 September, and then in France on 30 September.

Dolgopyat was born in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, and was introduced to gymnastics when he was six years old. His father was also a gymnast.

By the time Dolgopyat was 12 (in 2009) and his family had moved to Israel, he was twice Ukranian national champion in his age group. In Israel, he joined the Maccabi Tel Aviv gymnastics team.

Dolgopyat won gold in Paris, scoring 14.950 and beating his mentor, Israeli Alex Shatilov, 31, who came in fourth with a score of 14.500.

In Hungary, Dolgopyat and Shatilov competed in the floor exercises, where Shatilov came fifth. Ofir Netzer, who competed in the women’s vaulting competition, also won.

For the first time ever in a World Cup competition, Hatikvah was played twice in the medal ceremony.

There was great excitement from the commentator when Dolgopyat took to the floor for his routine in Hungary. He was the highest qualifier, and the most exciting prospect on the floor in world gymnastics. He has a particular pass (indicating a series of connected tumbling elements in the floor routine), which is quite spectacular.

Dolgopyat achieved a score of 14.700, which put him 0.695 clear of second-placed Ukranian veteran Oleg Verniaiev, with Spain’s Joel Plata third at 13.900.

While the men were fighting it out on the floor, the women were competing in the vault competition. Netzer qualified for the final, but she had scraped through in eighth place. She was a different gymnast in the final. The commentator could not believe the level of improvement, acknowledging that in her moderate qualification effort, the Israeli had made a lot of mistakes.

Throughout her senior career Netzer, 21, has finished fourth a number of times but has failed to make it to the podium in World Cup events. Fortunately, it was a very good day for her. She landed two clean vaults while many of her competitors made major mistakes in the final.

After his win Hungary, Dolgopyat was asked about his special pass. “I used to just play around with it for fun, but I never saw it becoming part of my routine,” he said. “But then I started to use it.”

Asked how long it took him to learn it, he said, “I wanted it to be there, so I just worked hard.”

The Israeli gymnasts are in for a very interesting couple of weeks because the World Championships are due to be staged in Doha from 25 October to 3 November. Israeli sportspeople have not been welcomed in Arab countries in the past. It remains to be seen how Qatar would handle an Israeli victory with a ceremony at which the Israeli flag would be raised and Hatikvah played.

With the Fifa World Cup heading its way, Qatar has promised that Israeli athletes will not be discriminated against at the World Championships.

Dolgopyat, however, has another difficult predicament. He is a soldier, and at this stage, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has not given him permission to travel to Qatar. As an active duty soldier, Dolgopyat is not able to travel abroad without special permission from the army.

The problem with a soldier travelling to a competition in Qatar is that active duty IDF soldiers have long been a target for kidnapping by terrorists, and Qatar is reportedly one of the sponsors of Hamas. Experts have said that unless action on the Gaza border escalates, Israeli athletes should be safe in Qatar, but such a trip is definitely riskier for a soldier than for civilians.

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