TOKYO - Less than 24 hours have passed since Linoy Ashram became the first Israeli woman to win a gold medal when she claimed victory in the individual Rhythmic Gymnastics competition - and she still has not come down to earth.
Unsurprisingly, the new Olympic champion is still excited and a little overwhelmed by her achievement. This is Israel's second gold medal of the competition, after fellow gymnast Artem Dolgopyat claimed the top spot in the men's floor exercises last Sunday.
"It hasn’t hit me yet, I slept maybe 40 minutes last night. I did not exactly sleep, it was more like dozing. I am still at peak excitement from yesterday," Ashram said at a press conference Sunday in Tokyo.
"It's an unimaginable experience. It's hard for me to take in that I am at the Olympics at all because it was always my dream. When I was small I saw [former Israeli Olympian] Neta Rivkin who is an amazing gymnast, and I thought to myself that I want to be like her and have that experience," she said.
"I never imagined in my life that I would return with a medal, let alone a gold. I always wanted to finish in the highest place possible, but I never dreamed that I would return from here as an Olympic champion. It was inconceivable," Ashram said.
The new gold medalist expressed the hope that her win would open the door to encourage more Israeli women to take up gymnastics.
"If until now [the sport] was dominated by Eastern Europe, now it belongs to everyone. I think my result has opened the door to more gymnasts and encouraged the belief that anything is possible with hard work," she said.
Ashram conceded that the pandemic seriously impacted on her last year of training, until the Israel Gymnastics Federation and the national sports institute at Wingate built a special tent for the Olympians to train.
The gold medalist also praised her personal trainer, Ayelet Sussman, and the special bond that the two share, as well as other members of the team.
"My coach goes through everything with me, she is everything to me. I learned so much from her. She put together the exercises. I also want to thank [team coach] Ella Smolov, who was there every step of the way," she said.
Ashram also singled out teammate Nicol Zelikman, whom she said "was with me the whole way through. We trust each other and support, and it's fun that she's by my side."
"I feel so proud to make history as the first [Israeli] woman with Olympic gold. I have received so much love from everyone, I could not put down my phone for reading it. I am already looking forward to returning to Israel," she said.
Ashram dismissed complaints about the results from her Russian rivals, twins Dina and Arina Averina, who placed second and fourth respectively.
The two claimed that they had been victims of biased judging in the competition and were backed by the head of the Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian sports minister.
"I did not watch the others and what they did," Ashram said. "I did what I did, I got my scores, I got the result I wanted and no one is happier than me."
The Olympian said she felt under no pressure to perform well in the Saturday's event but instead felt a wave of support and goodwill from her country.
"I felt like there was a push from all the people of Israel. It did not cause me stress or fill me with fear," she said.
"I felt that people wanted me to succeed. I felt pride in my country. It took me to a good place where many people love me and were wishing for my success. "