“Avishag is a great athlete who knows how to rise above when she needs to,” Noa Shmida, CEO of the Israeli Taekwondo Federation, who coached Semberg in the Israeli national team, told Davar. “She did her best. Against the Thai [competitor Panipak Wongpattanakit, who won the gold medal,] it wasn't enough, but it was enough to win a medal, and that’s a lot.”
With Avishag Semberg winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, taekwondo has become the fourth sport to earn Israel a medal since Israel began competing in the Olympics in 1952. The other sports are sailing, judo, and canoeing.
Shmida recounted the tremendous excitement felt in the taekwondo community following Semberg’s win: “The feeling is amazing. First of all, there was just the strong desire that she would win and the insane joy that it happened. It is a huge joy and we haven’t yet digested the meaning of the achievement."
Semberg’s win surprised fans, seeing as she arrived in Tokyo ranked only 16th out of seventeen women in her weight class.
“In the last few days, just before the competition, we spoke about this, how much this day is not a reflection of your record and ranking,” said Shmida. “On any given day, at least in the history of taekwondo, a large portion of the medals were not won by the favorites and were distributed quite diversely.”
“Like with Yael Arad’s win and what she did for judo"
According to Shmida, the taekwondo community will now have to leverage the increased media exposure in order to continue growing.
“This is what we were missing in the community, the medal at the Olympics. Like with the victory of Yael Arad and what she did for judo [in Israel],” Shmida said, referring to the athlete’s 1992 silver medal in judo that brought the sport into the Israel mainstream. As of 2016, 60,000 Israeli children were enrolled in judo classes, making it one of the country’s most popular sports.
“This achievement will put us at the forefront of the leading sports in the country,” Shmida said. “Now the authorities also need to treat us as an attractive sport and a top sport, so that boys and girls will choose to get involved in the sport, and so that they can have this dream and the inspiration of Avishag who won an Olympic medal. They will believe that they can too.”