Israelis bring home 25-medal haul from Special Olympics in Berlin

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Israel’s Special Olympics delegation is returning from the games in Berlin with a haul of 25 medals, up from 19 at the last games in 2019.

The 35 athletes representing Israel won nine gold medals, eight silvers and eight bronze medals across all eight disciplines in which they competed at the international competition, which wrapped up on Sunday.

“As promised, we are coming back to Israel with a multitude of medals,” said Sharon Levy-Blanga, CEO of the Special Olympics Israel organization, in a statement on Sunday. “Victories in competitions and podium placements in the highest levels of competition – these are phenomenal achievements for our athletes, who have been training tirelessly for months.”

Levy-Blanga called on Israelis to welcome home and celebrate the Special Olympics athletes in same the way they do other Israeli medal winners: “Only by doing so can we truly embrace the spirit of inclusion and recognition of the immense potential within each individual.”

Runner Ron Beck, 16, brought home a gold medal in the 3000m men’s race. He also won a silver medal in the 5000m and – alongside Adi Madmon, Saar Buchbinder and Pele Abudy – brought home a bronze for Israel in the mixed 4x400m relay.

Buchbinder, 30, also took home two gold medals, in the 5km and 10km races, while Madmon won a bronze medal in the women’s 100m.

Israeli Special Olympics runner Sa’ar Buchbinder (left) holds hands with US athlete Trasean Singletary at a medal ceremony at the games in Berlin, June 19, 2023. (Courtesy)

Athletes at the Special Olympics are classified into different divisions based on their abilities, determined both before and at the start of the games.

The women’s soccer team, making its debut in Berlin, took home a silver medal when it lost 2-0 to Bangladesh in the gold medal match in the F3 division, after beating Saudi Arabia 8-0 a day earlier.

Judokas Ido Rabinivich and Levav Barkan both won gold medals, in the first and third levels of the sport, respectively.

Israeli judoka Ido Rabinivich wins a gold medal at the Special Olympics in Berlin on June 23, 2023. (Courtesy)

In table tennis, David Kersenti took home a gold medal in the men’s singles under-17 division.

Israel racked up three swimming medals: gold for Sapir Bar Yoel in the men’s 50m freestyle, gold for Meir Segal in the men’s 100m freestyle and silver for Aran Bar-Peled in the women’s 800m freestyle.

The Israeli Special Olympics women’s soccer team poses with their silver medals at the games in Berlin on June 23, 2023. (Courtesy)

Tennis player Sonia Yanushuk, 19, won two medals at the games – an individual gold medal competing in Level 5, and a silver medal in the “Unified” doubles, where she was paired up with 16-year-old Lior Revach, and competed in Level 6, the highest division. Nadav Sarfati, meanwhile, took home silver in tennis competing in the men’s singles in Level 4.

The “Unified” sports at the Special Olympics consist of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities who compete together.

In bowling, the women’s “Unified” team won a bronze medal, and the “Unified” pair of Rivi Cohen, 38 – who was being treated for dialysis while at the games – and Hana Duanis, 66, picked up a silver medal. Gilad Kalishov, 31, earned a bronze in the men’s singles.

The Israeli Special Olympics ‘Unified’ bowling team with their bronze medals at the Berlin games, June 21, 2023: (from left) Rivi Cohen, Hana Duanis, Danielle Wieksza and Shlomit Meron. (Courtesy)

And in cycling, Noga Korn won a silver medal in the women’s 5km road race as well as a bronze medal in the 5km time trial in level 5; Tal Golani took home a bronze in the 5km in women’s level 6; Kobi Hamama won silver in the 2km time trial in men’s level 8; and Avi Elbaz earned a bronze in the 10km time trial in men’s level 6.

For the first time ever, Israel’s Special Olympics athletes competed this year with official recognition and backing from the State of Israel. Earlier this year the Culture and Sports Ministry recognized Special Olympics Israel as an an official sports federation – a recognition that comes with around NIS 500,000 ($140,000) in financial backing.

“It’s the first time in their lives that they are receiving a status that acknowledges them for who they are – as athletes, and not only people with disabilities,” Levy-Blanga told the Times of Israel ahead of the games.

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