Linoy Ashram - The Rising Star Of Israel
Soul Sport Exclusive Interview
By Gila Sayag
Linoy Ashram was born 13 May 1999, in Rishon Letziyon, Israel. As an individual rhythmic gymnast, she is the 2018 World All-around Silver medalist and 2017 World All-around bronze medalist.
Linoy is known for her powerful jumps and high leaps and unlike most rhythmic gymnasts she executes back spiral variations in a reverse direction. Her signature skill is the back-bend turn on floor with help - also known as the “Ashram".
Linoy has become a sensation in Israel and is adored by the public. She is sought after by sponsors and media platforms and her fan-group is rapidly growing globally.
Now Linoy has the biggest stage, the 2020 Olympics, set in her sights. Soul Sport caught up with Linoy with an exclusive interview.
When did you realise that you could compete and win on the world stage?
When I was 15 years old and won the all-around gold at the 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final in Innsbruck, Austria. It was also a big moment of national pride as it was the first time an Israeli had won the gold for rhythmic gymnastics.
What has brought Linoy Ashram to her current position as a challenger for worlds best?
Throughout my youth I worked very hard. I trained six days a week - sessions of many hours. I’ve had amazing support from my parents and coaches, as well as the Israeli athletics organisation and my sponsors. I owe much of my success to all these.
When you first started competing as a junior in major competitions was it unnerving?
Being still very young and innocent I was not really aware of the magnitude of the events, so I approached them like any other contest - like a domestic competition, in Israel. I would arrive and I knew I had to compete and so I did. When I later matured though, major competitions like the Grand Prix were definitely challenging on my nerves and emotions.
Is there a big difference in the level between juniors and seniors in rhythmic gymnastics?
Seniors is a completely different level - far more difficult. Exercises are tougher and more complicated; the margin for error is much smaller; the competition more fierce. As a senior every gymnast is striving to reach the Olympics, so it’s tough.
In 2018 you leapt to incredible results. What was it that made the difference?
The Olympics performance evaluation was changed and this helped in my favour. The judging criteria is now less about the physical aspect and more about how the performance is done with the equipment. It focuses more on aspects like agility, rhythm and movement which are areas in which my strengths lie. Hence my acceleration in 2018.
How is it being part of the Israeli team?
It is a great honour for me to represent my country and to brings recognition to Israel through my performances and results.
Are the athletes close and supportive?
There is a lot of support and camaraderie within the team. In particular, I am very close to Nicole Seligman, a co-athlete of mine. We practice together, are a support for one another, travel to competitions together and have become good friends, which helps a great deal.
Prime Minister Netanyahu called you after your recent medal win - how was that for you?
I was ecstatic! I was thrilled to know that he knew about my achievements and that he appreciates my contribution to our country. He told me he is proud of me and that he is behind and supports me all the way - I was deeply moved.
In Israel you have become a well known figure - do you get a lot of attention when you go out?
Haha, yes actually. When I walk the streets, people stop me and say: “You look familiar, are you Linoy?” The first few times it was a bit awkward. I’m more used to it now and kind of enjoy it. Coupled with the attention, I get a lot of love.
Picture Amit Shisel
Picture Aron Aharoni
Picture Israeli Olympic Federation
What has been your career highlight thus far?
Each year the highlight event is the World Championships. It is the most auspicious event second only to the Olympics. So much goes into it and to getting there.
Who have your role-models been?
When I was little it was Netta Rifkin an Israeli veteran of three Olympics. I trained under her, watched her closely and learned many things from her. Internationally, I admire the outstanding Margarita Mammon who won the gold at the 2016 Olympics.
How do you manage with your ‘call up’ to the IDF?
I am presently supposed to be in the army and technically I am, however, I get special dispensation to do what I need to as a professional athlete, as I represent Israel on the international stage.
Have you experienced anti-Israel sentiment along the way?
In my sport we don’t feel it. Unlike Judo or swimming where you compete against other teams or individuals, in rhythmic gymnastics you compete alone, for the judges. So boycotts of Israel are not really possible in this instance. I can say that thus far, the environments I’ve competed in have been supportive and I’ve been embraced.
The 2020 Olympics is coming. Your thoughts and hopes? Going for Gold?
I’m not thinking about a medal. My focus and priority right now is to qualify for the 2019 Championships. As for the Olympics, I hope too get there and to perform at my best.
When you are finished with your sports career what would you like you do?
I haven’t yet considered that. I’m just so focused on my current goals. I imagine I will possibly go into coaching or training and see where that takes me. Time will tell.
Have you had a Jewish moment that stands out?
We were supposed to compete in Japan. The tournament however fell on Yom Kippur and so we had to cancel our attendance at the competition. We won’t compete on Yom Kippur.
What makes Linoy Ashram a winner?
My nature is that if something is flawed, or isn’t working in my performance, I won’t give up until I get it right. I become obsessed with mastering the exercise or manoeuvre. Maybe that has something to do with it - my drive and will to succeed is strong.
Is there a special kinship between the USA and Israel teams - being as they are allies on the broader global stage?
There is no such thing as a relationship with other teams. No politics. It’s the same with all teams. We compete to win no matter who we are up against. It’s just the way it is.
Who are the toughest to compete against?
The Russians are the toughest. But there are many others too - the Ukranians are very good and more recently, the Italians have improved a great deal.
How important is confidence and mental strength?
Extremely importantly and especially in our discipline. We have four exercises to perform in one competition. If you fail the 1st you still have three to go, but the pressure intensifies each time and you cannot allow your nerves or mental weakness to break you.
How do you deal with critical high-anxiety moments?
Those critical moments in competition can be overwhelming. I have techniques that I use to stay focused and not get tangled up. My coaches also know how to calm me down when I’m stressing out, though fortunately that doesn’t happen often.
Keeping in shape must be tough at the highest level - your schedule and eating disciplines?
Fortunately I can eat most things as the amount of training I do compensates and my metabolism is good. Ideally however, reducing carbs and limiting sweets and generally trying to eat healthy, is the way to go. As far as my schedule? Haha, don’t ask - it’s training from morning to night.