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Israel and the Olympic Games

The Olympic Committee of Israel building in the National Sport Center – Tel Aviv

In 1933, the Palestine National Olympic Committee was officially formed, and was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in May 1934. Although this committee represented Jews, Christians and Muslims living in Mandatory Palestine, its rules stated that they “represent[ed] the Jewish National Home” making it the antecedent to the Israeli Olympic team rather than the Palestine Olympic Committee representing the Palestinian Authority which was recognized by the International Olympic Committee after the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Palestine was formally invited to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but declined the invitation to attend the Games in Nazi Germany.

Shortly after the State of Israel was established, the Israeli sports organizations that replaced the Palestine Olympic Committee sought recognition from the International Olympic Committee. The hope was to send two female athletes to the 1948 Olympics in London. Its 50 male athletes could not participate because they were serving in the military.

The IOC denied Israel’s request formally on the grounds that it was not yet a member of the organization. The decision was aimed at preventing a boycott by the Arab nations after Egypt warned the IOC they would not compete if Israel were recognized.

Israel participated in its first Summer Olympics at Helsinki in 1952 and participated in every one since except the 1980 Moscow Games. Israel began participating in the Winter Olympics in 1994.

Israel has won 13 medals in the Summer Olympics (3 gold, 1 silver, 9 bronze). Yael Arad won Israel’s first, a silver in judo, at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Gal Fridman became Israel’s first gold medalist when he won the windsurfing competition in the 2004 Athens Games.

Israel sent its largest delegation to the 2020 Tokyo Games in 2021 (90), nearly double the size of the 2016 delegation. Athletes were scheduled to compete in archery, track and field, badminton, baseball, cycling (road and mountain), equestrian, gymnastics (artistic and rhythmic), judo, sailing, shooting, surfing, swimming (artistic, competitive and open water), taekwondo and triathlon. 

Israel is making its debut in baseball in the 2020 Games. The team is led by four-time Major League Baseball All-Star Ian Kinsler. Eight other players on the 24-man roster have played in the MLB. After being ranked only 41st in the world in 2017, the team won the Africa/Europe Olympic qualifying tournament in 2020.

On the first day of the Games, Avishag Semberg won Israel’s 10th medal, taking the bronze in Taekwondo. Artem Dolgopyat later won Israel’s second Olympic gold medal, 11th overall, in floor exercise in artistic gymnastics. A third medal, a bronze, was captured by Timna Nelson-Levy, Ori Sasson, Li Kochman, Gili Sharir, Tohar Butbul, Peter Paltchik, Sagi Muki, and Raz Hershko in the mixed Judo team competition. Capping off the country’s most successful Olympics, Linoy Ashram became the first Israeli woman to win a gold medal by outperforming the competitors in artistic gymnastics.

Sources: Bill Mallon, Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement, (Scarecrow Press, 2011), p. 291.
“Israel Ineligible For London Games,” AP, (July 23, 1948).
“Olympic Committee of Israel,” Wikipedia.
Brandon Penny, “Israel’s first Olympic baseball team is led by an All-Star and the sport’s second-oldest player,” NBC Sports, (July 5, 2021).
The Olympic Committee in Israel.
“Artem Dolgopyat wins historic gymnastics gold medal for Israel,” The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, August 1, 2021).
Idan Zonshine and Shira Silkoff, “Victory in Tokyo: Israeli judo team brings home bronze,” Jerusalem Post, (July 31, 2021).
“Israel beats Russia, wins gold in gymnastics; Angry Russians accuse judges of bias,” AP, (August 7, 2021).

Photo: Ori~ via Wikimedia Commons.