Artem Dolgopyat, a 24-year-old Israeli, made history on Sunday when he won a gold medal in the men’s rhythmic gymnastics on the floor.
The postponed Games in Tokyo 2020 marked the Olympic debut of a modest, unpretentious athlete who lived half his life in a Jewish state. But since childhood, Dolgopyat won and brought home medals, moving in this direction.
Born in Dnipro, Ukraine, Dolhopyat moved with his family to Israel when he was 12 years old. By that time, he had already established himself as a promising young gymnast, after he was only six years old when he started training in Ukraine.
According to him, at the age of 12, his father Oleg told him that the whole family was moving to Israel. “I knew we were Jews, but we didn’t celebrate the holidays, and so far I haven’t even heard of Israel,” he admitted.
According to him, when he came to Israel, he tried to learn Hebrew and adapt to a new school and classmates.
“For the first two months, I was in class in Rishon Lecion and I didn’t understand anything,” he said. He went to school with a high percentage of Russian-speaking teachers, which helped him adjust. But he always felt at home in the gym. “For me, gymnastics has always been the most important thing – it’s something I did all the time and that helped me adapt in Israel.”
He enlisted in the IDF at the age of 18 for compulsory service, but served in a special framework for athletes, where he spent part of his time in the military and spent the rest of his time training.
At the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games, Dolgopyat finished 5th in the cord jump and 7th in the floor exercise. And in 2017, he began to truly flourish, celebrating a series of victories, moving to the top.
In April 2017, Dolgopyat took fourth place in the floor exercise at the European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships – just one place behind Israeli bronze medalist Alex Shatilov – who over the years has become Dolgopyat’s mentor and friend.
Then a month later, in May, Dolgopyat won a silver medal at the Osijek Grand Prix; in July he took home two gold and bronze medals at the Maccabi Games; and in October, he won a silver medal in the floor exercise as the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Montreal – only the second Israeli since Shatilov to ever win a medal at the event.
At the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Dolgopyat won a silver medal in the floor exercise, and at the 2020 European Championships in Mersin, Turkey, he took the gold home.
All his achievements were the result of his enormous hard work – hours and hours of training every day and late at night, combining gymnastics with military service. He suffered injuries and setbacks, struggled with back and leg pain for years. But he never gave up on his dream, and on the way he always had Shatilov nearby.
“Gymnastics is like a family, and Alexei Shatilov is like an older brother to me,” Dolgopyat said in 2017. “He helped me for many years, gave professional advice, helped to correct his mistakes.”
Shatilov, who represented Israel at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was also in Tokyo, competing in the floor exercise but finishing 47th overall. Over the years, the 34-year-old Shatilov has won a series of medals for Israel at international competitions, but has never been able to bring home an Olympic medal.
On Sunday, Shatilov watched and cheered as Dolgopyat went down in Israeli history and brought home Israel’s first Olympic medal in gymnastics and only the second gold overall. Shatilov congratulated Dolgopyat on his victory, and Artem thanked him for all the support over the years.
“He accompanied me throughout my journey, he was with me throughout my career, and we are like brothers,” Dolgopyat said. “I’m so happy that he was always with me and I was with him. It’s a pity we both couldn’t make it to the final.”
And although the modest Dolgopyat admitted that his victory with a gold medal is not even the best, he has already aimed at his next goal: another Olympic gold medal.
“My dream now is to get another Olympic gold,” he told Haaretz on Sunday. “We’ll start working on that tomorrow.”