The 2020 Tokyo Olympics torch ceremony begins in seven months, and this year will have an unprecedented number of Israeli participants to the world stage. The number of athletes totals 54, competing in nine sports. These numbers top Israel’s 2016 delegation size, which totaled 47 athletes, beating the previous high of 43 delegates in 2008. This record-high number of participants is a testament to Israel’s growth as a nation. For a country the size of New Jersey, Israel has demonstrated extreme diplomacy in the face adversity at past Olympics.
In the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, a Palestinian terrorist group named “Black September” murdered 11 delegates of Israel’s team, leading Israel to withdraw from the competition. Still, Israel was not deterred from proving their legitimacy in the world-wide sporting arena. At the following 1976 Canadian Olympics, the Jewish homeland brought 28 competitors to compete in 10 sports. The memory of the eleven athletes lost in the massacre was upheld in the Israeli football team, whose roster included exactly eleven athletes. Although no medals were won in that trying year, it was the most successful Israeli delegation to date. Esther Roth-Shahamorov, the only teammate to have experienced the atrocities in Munich firsthand, became the first Israeli to reach an Olympic final, winning the sixth place in the women’s 100-meter hurdles. Eduard Weitz came fifth in weightlifting and Rami Miron came in fifth in wrestling. In the following years, Israel would face more trying times and success.
In 1980, Israel refrained from sending a delegation to the Moscow Olympics and participated in the American-led boycott of the events in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In response, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 summer Olympics hosted in Los Angeles. These Olympics proved to be another positive year for Israel, who sent 32 delegates to compete in 11 sports. In 1988, 19 Israeli athletes competed in the Korean Olympics in seven sports.
But the true accomplishments for the nation did not come until Spain in 1992 when Israel won their first medal. Thirty-two competitors took part in 10 sports. Yael Arad won silver in judo’s under-61 kg category for women, and Oren Smadja followed with a bronze in the men’s under-71 kg category. Between 1992 and 2016, judo continued to be the most successful category for the Israeli’s, with athletes amassing a total of five medals. Israel has only won in two other categories, sailing and canoeing.
In the coming 2020 Olympics, Israel will mark its debut in equestrian and surfing, two categories new to the Olympics, as well as baseball, which is set to return to the games. The future is bright for this record-breaking team, whose accomplishments have come so far.