ATHENS, Greece – A windsurfer whose first name means "wave" in Hebrew gave Israel its first Olympic gold medal ever Wednesday, taking a plunge in the Saronic Gulf to celebrate.
Gal Fridman (search) sailed a remarkably consistent regatta, never finishing worse than eighth in the 11-race series. He placed second in Wednesday's decisive race.
After Fridman crossed the finish line, he took a victory dip and then wrapped himself in an Israeli flag when he came out of the water.
Fridman's victory finally gives Israelis the chance to hear their national anthem during a medal ceremony, scheduled for later in the day. The song is "Hatikvah" — The Hope — and Israeli fans sang it spontaneously last week when Ariel Zeevi (search) won a bronze medal in judo.
There has been tremendous pressure on Israeli athletes to get their country's first gold at the Athens Games. When Zeevi won his medal, he called it "the hardest day of my life" because of the scrutiny.
In 12 previous Olympics dating to 1952, Israel had won only one silver and three bronze medals. Fridman won a bronze in his event in 1996.
Until Wednesday, its Olympic legacy was primarily somber — political complications, occasional snubs by athletes from Islamic countries and, overshadowing all else, the killing of 11 athletes and coaches who were seized by a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September (search) at the 1972 Games in Munich.
Two other members of Fridman's sailing club had a chance to win a medal in doubles at Seoul in 1988, ranking second heading into the final day of competition. They didn't compete because it was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the year for Jews.
Fridman's victory came after Ricardo Santos of Brazil, the leader through 10 races, finished 17th in the finale. Nikolaos Kaklamanakis of Greece won the silver, and Nick Dempsey of Britain took the bronze.