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Gershony, the ace in Israel's Paralympics pack

    There has hardly been a dry eye in the Gershony household since Wheelchair Tennis star Noam brought home gold from London.

    The 29-year-old displayed little emotion on court throughout the tournament but he struggled to hold back tears of joy after beating top seed David Wagner to win the Quad Singles title.

    A former IDF Apache attack helicopter pilot, Gershony has overcome many barriers in life, but he momentarily let down his guard after winning what proved to be his nation’s top prize in an eight-medal haul.

    Gershony said: "Wow. This feeling is almost unbearable. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s crazy.
    “There was so much pressure to bring home the gold because I knew I could do it. I barely slept the night before the final. I’m just happy to have made it."

    With the first set won in 34 minutes, Gershony went on to seal his victory impressively, charging through the second set in just over 20 minutes, defeating his American opponent with a range of passing shots and aces that befit a Paralympic champion.

    Gershony marked the winning point with clenched fists and punches of the air at Eton Manor. For his supporters in the stands, the celebrations were only just beginning.

    Coach Kobi Weiner and team-mates Shraga Weinberg and Boaz Kramer raced on to the court to embrace Gershony, while supporters clutching Israeli flags ran down from the stands to courtside to salute their champion.

    As Hatikvah played on centre court Gershony looked down at his medal and, finally, wept, the emotion of the past five years finally pouring out.

    Following the medal ceremony he embraced his parents, Moshe and Pnina, before receiving a congratulatory phone call from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Swimmer Inbal Pezaro caught the eye with three bronze medals, but it was Gershony who came away from the Games as Israel’s top athlete.

    He said: "When I started playing tennis I didn’t think I would play competitively or put that much into it.

    "I've always loved sport. I used to play soccer, volleyball and squash before I got injured. After my helicopter accident I wanted to see what sports I could do with my new physical state and I started playing. I thought that if I enjoyed playing I would keep doing it."

    The success in London could see Noam’s life once again transformed. And after carrying the Israel flag at the Closing Ceremony, he joined his teammates at an official reception at the residence of President Shimon Peres.

    Israeli tennis fans and the media took a keen interest in his progress at the Games, but he is modest when discussing his possible role as a national sporting icon.

    "I never thought I could represent Israel in anything, but I’m glad to do so,” he said. “I’m proud to be an Israeli and to represent my country."

    Having beaten double Paralympic champion Peter Norfolk in the last eight, Weinberg was unable to claim what would have been his second medal after going down in three sets against Nicholas Taylor of the USA in the bronze playoff match.

    Israel Wheelchair Tennis team coach Kobi Weiner said he was stunned by the magical week at London 2012. "It is still a shock how well it has gone here," he said.

    "To go home with these medals is a very good result. We have a lot of fans in England and having them here to support us, as well as a big crowd from our clubs who have travelled here – it is like being at home."

    Reflecting on the achievements of the squad, Israel Paralympic chairman Dani Ben-Abu said: "They exceeded expectation. To win gold was something very emotional. The sky is the limit for Noam now. He’s always very calm and never cries but he cried tears of happiness during the Hatikvah.

    "But it was not just about the medals. It was about the fact that they all worked and trained hard for four years in a competition that is getting tougher.

    "We have some beautiful memories. There were so many highlights but for me it was seeing the number of fans wanting to see the spectacle and the volunteers were incredible. London knew exactly how to host this event which was the best-ever."

    Asked what the Israel Olympic squad can learn from the success of the Paralympians, he said: “One of the keys to our success was harmony. We have to live in balance as when you are disabled you have to be mentally tough and together like a family."

    * Plans have been announced to hold a Paralympic Games event for the first time during next year’s Maccabiah in Israel. Featured sports will include table tennis, tennis, swimming and cycling, as well as Wheelchair Basketball match between Israel and a team from the Diaspora.

    Additional reporting by Danny Caro

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