Gal Fridman was an Israeli Olympic windsurfer and the first Israeli to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
Fridman was born on September 16, 1975, in the Israeli moshav of Karkur near Hadera, Israel, and acquired his love of sailing from his family. Gal, whose name means
wave in Hebrew, started windsurfing at the age of six taking after his father who was an amateur competitor. Gal began competing when he was 11.
Fridman competed in international competitions in the youth categories in 1989 and 1991 while attending the ORT Ha-Shomron High School in Binyaminah. He won the silver medal at the 1995 and 1996 World Championships and placed second in the European Championships both years. He was named Israel’s Sportsman of the Year in 1996.
A member of the Israeli sailing team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Fridman competed in the men’s mistral (windsurfing) event. He took the bronze medal, only the third medal won by an Israeli athlete in Olympic history at the time. Afterward, Fridman said: “There are no words to describe this, but I feel very good...I felt the whole of Israel was watching me.”
After the success in Atlanta, Fridman failed to make the Olympics for Sydney 2000. He bounced back, however, starting with the 2001 European Championships in France where he won the bronze. In 2002, he was the best mistral sailor in the world and won gold at the World Championship in Thailand as well as the silver in the European Championships. In 2003, Fridman captured the bronze in the World Championships at Cadiz. On May 25, 2004, Fridman won the Israeli National Championships by such a wide margin that he sat out the third and final day of sailing.
At the 2004 Olympics, Gal competed in the mistral sailing event, which includes 11 races, and won the gold medal over Nikolaos Kaklamanakis of Greece, the 1996 champion, becoming Israel’s first gold medal winner. After crossing the finish line, Fridman pumped his fist, took a victory dip, and then wrapped himself in an Israeli flag when he emerged from the water.
I am happy you all got to see the race live on television,” he said to Israeli viewers in an interview. “I simply felt the entire country pushing me forward.”
It was the first time the national anthem Hatikvah was played at the Olympics. The President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and other senior officials called Fridman to congratulate him. The minister of Education, Culture, and Sports, Limor Livnat, flew to Athens for the awards ceremony. He dedicated his medal to the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by members of the Black September terrorist organization during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The following year his bronze and bold Olympic medals were stolen, with only the gold medal recovered from the robbery.
In 2008, Fridman failed to make the Israeli Olympic team. By then he had become an accomplished cyclist, having won the Israeli cycling championship in 2005.
After 2008, Fridman retired from competition and focused on coaching.
Fridman was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2005S