Everything hinged on the 11th race
Gal Fridman started windsurfing at the age of seven, spurred on by his father, formerly a keen amateur windsurfer. Born in Hadera on the Mediterranean coast, he took part in his first competitions aged 13.
Gal made his Olympic début in 1996, at the Games in Atlanta in the Mistral class. Winning the bronze medal after the 11 regattas was already a major achievement, as this was only the third medal in his country’s history.
Gal went through a bad patch in 1999 and 2000, failing to get selected to compete in the Games in Sydney. It was during this time that he decided to take up other sports, including mountain biking, to improve his physical fitness.
Gal Fridman returned to the top flight of the sailing world two years later, winning several medals in major championships, including the world championship title in 2002.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the Israeli windsurfer was one of the favourites. He was familiar with the Agios Kosmas sailing venue, having done a lot of training there and taken part in the pre-Olympic events.
During this windsurfing competition, Gal focused on consistency, never finishing lower than eighth (out of more than 30 competitors). He was even first in the rankings after the eighth regatta. Before the 11th and final race, he had dropped to second place, but was sure of winning a medal. To win gold, he had to finish five places above the Brazilian Ricardo Santos, all the while keeping a close eye on Greece’s Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, the Olympic champion at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. It was also he who had lit the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Athens Games.
In the decisive regatta, Gal took advantage of a tactical error by the Greek, who finished 10th in this race, while a poor performance by the Brazilian led to him finishing in 17th place. By coming second in this final regatta, Gal Fridman won his longed-for Olympic title, ahead of Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, who took the silver, and Britain’s Nick Dempsey, who won the bronze. Dempsey had needed to win the final regatta to shoot up the rankings from sixth to third place.This Olympic title was the first in the history of Israel, which earned Gal Fridman a hero’s welcome on his return to his country.