Search

Does Israel Compete In the Olympics?

Israel's Olympic Teams: 13 Medals Since 1952

Yes! Israel started competing in the Olympics in 1952, when the country was only four years old.


Now, 70 years later, Israel has won 13 Olympic medals to date, including three Gold Medals in windsurfing (Gal Friedman, Athens 2004); rhythmic gymnastics (Linoy Ashram, Tokyo 2020/2021), and gymnastics (Artem Dolgopyat, Tokyo 2020/2021).


Linoy Ashram, Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast, Tokyo 2020/2022
Linoy Ashram, Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast, Tokyo 2020/2022


Israel's First Olympic Medal: July 1992

Where were you on July 31, 1992?


I'll never forget where I was, or what I was doing:


The staff lounge at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin with my fellow counselors, celebrating the news that Yael Arad, the 25-year-old judoka from Tel Aviv, had just won Israel's first ever Olympic medal (a silver) at the Barcelona Summer Games.



Yael Arad, Israeli Judoka and First Olympic Medal Winner, Barcelona 1992
Yael Arad

Much has changed since the summer of '92. Israel has won twelve more Olympic medals, including three golds.


And Yael Arad, now a mother, is now President of the Israel Olympic Committee.


Last month, I had the honor of interviewing Yael as part of the research for my upcoming book, "Israel 75: Behind the Headlines."


It was an incredible conversation. Despite her place in Israeli history, Yael was down to earth, honest about the challenges the country faces, and forthcoming about her vision for what's ahead.


I'll include the full transcript in next year's book, but for now, here are highlights:


"Barefoot Sports"

"There's a joke on the Olympic Committee that we Israelis only win medals in sport yachef --'barefoot sports' like judo, sailing, and gymnastics," Yael said.


One of her primary goals is that Israel will medal in sports like swimming and diving, and even a few where competitors wear shoes. "We have a lot of potential in track and field," Yael told me. "Soccer, too."


As for how to make that happen...


Arab-Israeli athletes. Several times in our conversation, Yael made a point that Israel needs to do a better job of integrating Arab-Israeli athletes onto its Olympic teams, particularly in soccer.


"Not just because it will make our teams stronger," she said, "but because it's better for society overall."


I was impressed that Yael's vision for the future of Israeli sport included this element of social good.


Silent promise. Before departing for Barcelona, Yael told me, she visited the families of the eleven slain Israeli athletes who'd been murdered at the '72 Munich Games. "I sat in their living rooms," she said. "I looked at their photo albums. Even though twenty years had passed, the pain for these families was still so raw."


Before she left, the families gave her a small tehilim -- a Book of Psalms -- to take with her.


"I made a silent promise to myself," Yael said, "that if I should be so blessed to win a medal, I would dedicate it to the athletes who fell."


And she did.


--------------------------


As a huge sports fan, there was no way I could write a book about Israel without exploring the world of Israeli athletics.


But I cover plenty of other topics, too!


If there's a particular subject you want to know more about, drop me a note at joel@joelchasnoff.com, or on the Contact page.


And if you remember where you were that summer of '92, when you found out Israel had finally won an Olympic medal, tell me. I'd love to hear your memory.