Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” was heard on the stage in Doha, Qatar, on January 31 as Israeli fencer Yuval Freilich won the gold medal in the Doha Grand Prix. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Freilich, 29, began fencing at age eight while living in Australia, where he saw the sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. He was the first fencer representing Israel to win gold in the individual epee event at the European championships in 2019.
Wearing a patch resembling an Israeli flag, emblazoned with the words “Am Yisrael chai” (the people of Israel live), Freilich defeated one of the world’s top fencers, world champion Yannick Borel of France, at the event in Doha.
Though he is much shorter than Borel, he has said that his height is an advantage. “I come up against fencers like Yannick Borel and I know he’s very tall, very strong, very big, and I have to make sure I’m as precise and as accurate as possible. [But] the question of how tall someone is shouldn’t make a difference. You come to the bout saying, ‘I can win’. It doesn’t matter about size. It’s a question of mindset. You need to believe you can win.”
The lefthanded Israeli fencer is now one step closer to qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Gili Lustig, the CEO of the Israel Olympic Committee, called Freilich’s win “an impressive achievement in an Olympic-level tournament.”
Maccabi USA President Jeff Bukantz noted that if Freilich retains his lead at three remaining Olympic qualifiers – two World Cups in Germany and Georgia and a Grand Prix in Budapest — he would become the first male Israeli fencer to compete at the Olympic Games. Two female fencers — Delila Hatuel (foil) and Noam Mills (epee) – represented Israel in Beijing in 2008.
“With Israel unlikely to qualify for Paris through the primary route – as part of a team – Freilich must navigate the incredibly tough individual qualification path,” Bukantz writes. “Two places are available to individual fencers in the European zone, arguably the toughest of all the zones. Ahead of the competition in Doha, Freilich lay in second place, 14.5 points behind Czech fencer Jiri Beran. The Doha win came with 48 qualification points, meaning Freilich now comfortably leads the European race by 33.5 points.”
Produced in association with ISRAEL21c
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