Artem Dolgopyat exclusive: How I became who I am today

Artem Dolgopyat is the first Israeli man to claim Olympic gymnastics gold. He will seek a first world title later this month in Liverpool. We sat down with the history maker. 

4 min By Scott Bregman
Artem Dolgopyat
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

As Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat received his Olympic gold medal last summer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, he couldn’t believe what was happening.

“I thought I was dreaming,” said Dolgopyat in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com. “It was the biggest dream I’ve ever had in life, and… I did believe I could win a medal, of course, but I tried not to think about it. I tried to think about just doing what I know and that’s all.”

His win was the first for an Israeli gymnast and one of only three gold medals ever for the nation at the Olympics.

The then 24-year-old, was twice the world silver medallist on the floor exercise, but still, he didn’t expect to make the leap from world medallist to Olympic champion.

“Winning the gold medal, the national anthem, standing on the podium, which I didn’t believe would happen for a long while, I think these are the most exciting moments for me,” said Dolgopyat.

Inspired by Shatilov, Dolgopyat pushes past challenges, disappointment

The road to Olympic gold had not been easy – or straightforward.

Dolgopyat was born in Ukraine. He started his gymnastics career there, winning two junior titles before moving to Israel.

Once there, he met Alexander Shatilov, the first Israeli gymnast to win a European gold medal. Dolgopyat credits him as an inspiration in the sport.

“My father set the goal for me of becoming as good as Alex,” said Dolgopyat. “I told him, ‘You’re insane, he’s 10 years older, it’s impossible.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you need to make it happen.’

“Over the years, I watched how Alex trained, I worked with him, we worked together, we traveled to training camps,” he continued, “and that’s how I improved, I think, because he was much better than me, and when you have a target, you can go for it.”

That doesn’t mean it was easy. After his move to Israel, came disappointments on the field of play for Dolgopyat, who missed out on medals at several high-profile events.

He competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, finished 10th in the all-around, fifth on vault and eighth in the floor exercise. He fell on his final tumbling pass during his world championships debut in 2015, which meant he’d miss both the final and chance to qualify to Rio 2016.

But, then, finally a breakthrough: a silver medal at the 2017 Worlds in Montreal. A feat he repeated two years later at the Worlds in Stuttgart.

“The difficulties I had along the way were what helped me to become an Olympic champion,” Dolgopyat reflected. “There were many difficulties, all the injuries, all the falling short. I didn’t win any medals at the Youth Olympics, but I had chances to do so, so after every big competition I was very disappointed.

“But I was lucky enough to have people close to me who supported me and helped me to get back up on my feet and move on,” he continued, “and become what I am today.”

Step-by-step to Liverpool and beyond

His 2022 season has been fruitful with floor exercise World Cup titles in Doha, Cairo and Baku, as well as the European gold in August.

Next up is the World Championships, which begin later this month in Liverpool, England. Dolgopyat hopes to perform an upgraded routine there, as he seeks his first world title at the event.

“I want to raise the difficulty of my floor routine, so that’s really what I’m going to be working on over the next month and a half,” he said in August. “I hope to head to Liverpool as well prepared as possible.

“Actually, I don’t like to think that far ahead…” he continued. “I like to take it, as you say in English, ‘step-by-step.’ Now, we’re in the European Championships, then I’ll prepare for the World Championships, then another year of European and World Championships. And… as I said, step-by-step, I hope to make it to the Olympics, and, of course, we’ll try to be in the best possible shape.”

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