Israeli swimmer wins first gold medals ever in World Championship

18-year-old Anastasia Gorbenko took first place in 50m. breaststroke and 100m. medley competitions in Abu Dhabi.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel’s top female swimmer has won a historic two gold medals in the World Short Course Swimming Championships currently being held in Abu Dhabi.

18-year-old Anastasia Gorbenko took first place in the 50m. breaststroke on Friday and in the 100m. medley Sunday, marking the first times an Israeli has stood to hear the Hatikva national anthem played at the Worlds.

“I concentrated on the good things I had to do,” she said after her second win, “and when I saw towards the end that I was in the lead I got very excited and wanted to finish even faster.” Gorbenko ended up with the Israeli record as well, touching the wall in an even 57.80 seconds.

Gorbenko has several national records under her belt already among all the events she competes in, which include the backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle and medley, over 50-, 100-, and 200m. lengths, both as an individual and in the foursome relay competitions.

“It’s always exciting to compete for my country,” said the teenager, who has been doing so successfully for several years. She first tasted gold in the girls’ 200m. individual medley in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games as a 15-year-old. That, too, was Israel’s first gold in swimming at that level of international competition.

She graduated to the senior league and in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo she made it into two finals, the 100m. individual backstroke and the mixed 4X100 medley relay. This year, she won gold again in the 200m. medley, both times the European Championships were held in 2021.

Gorbenko is swimming many times over the five-day event in the United Arab Emirates, as there are the preliminary heats, semifinal and finals all crowded into a short period of time. She missed the final of the 100m. breaststroke, coming in sixth in her heat after having won the medley earlier in the day.

Coach Ehud Segal expressed his pleasure and pride in Gorbenko’s international achievements, “something not easy to do” with the tough schedule of swims, he said. Already focusing on the future, he added that “We have to learn and improve how to deal with two finals [so close together] so that we can continue our successes.”

Monday may be especially tough for the Israeli champion, with heats in two of the longer, 200m. events scheduled.

Many consider Gorbenko to already be Israel’s greatest swimmer of all time – and at 18, she is far from retirement age. But as the teen’s draft date is coming up, she is due for at least a temporary break from the pool, although how short or long it is depends on the IDF.

Israel Swimming Association head Mickey Halifa told 103FM Sunday that her induction “comes exactly at a good time – we need it for a breather.” But he added the caveat, “I hope that she’ll do a shortened basic training, we’ll see how the army can come towards her. I think even the prime minister understands today the immensity of the achievement and power that we have. We want to see Anastasia in the army, but alongside that you have to remember that the goal is the [next] Olympics.”