September 21, 2019

The 7-Year-Old Israeli Artistic Gymnast 

Chloe Attar. Photo by Lior Ben Shay

When American gymnast Simone Biles won five medals, four of them gold, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, on the other side of the world in Tel Aviv, 4-year-old Chloe Attar shocked her family and friends at a bar mitzvah when she started doing perfect cartwheels on the lawn. Her parents quickly enrolled her in every course involving acrobatics they could find, including judo, dance, gymnastics, circus acrobatics, synchronized swimming and even pole dancing. 

Three years later, synchronized swimming and artistic gymnastics were the skills that stuck, but the latter is the one that Attar aspires to compete in. Her goals aren’t modest: “I want to go to the Olympics and win gold,” she said.

When she was 5, a popular circus act came to Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market. The director, Shahar Kamay, spotted Attar doing handstands in the audience. He stopped his own act and beckoned her to come onstage and take over. 

The image of her younger self commanding center stage somehow didn’t gel with the painfully shy 7-year-old whose answers in an interview were delivered after much coaxing and barely above a whisper. Yet Attar said that when she performs, the audience doesn’t factor in. “They’re usually higher above me, so I don’t see them. When it’s one on one, it’s more pressure,” she said. And when, on occasion, her heart seizes with the realization of just how many pairs of eyes are on her, “I think about something funny and move on,” she said.

In May, Attar met Romanian gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci, who was the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 in Olympic competition at the 1976 Montreal Games. She signed Attar’s leotard and asked her to do a handstand, Attar noted with pride. Attar’s summary of her meeting the five-time Olympic gold medalist was decidedly more down to earth. “It was good. She is much older than me,” she said.

“I want to go to the Olympics and 

win gold.” — Chloe Attar

Today, Attar trains at least three times a week for three hours at Tel Aviv’s Olympic Center. Rubbing shoulders with famous Israeli athletes, including Olympic judo medalist Arik Ze’evi and rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram, is par for the course. Attar is part of a national team, Hapoel Tel Aviv. Her idols are American gymnasts Aly Raisman, Katelyn Ohashi and Biles. “They are strong and don’t give up,” she said. 

But the road to gold isn’t necessarily paved with it. In June, Attar competed in Israel’s national championships in uneven bars, vault, floor exercise and balance beam and came in 10th place all-around. Not bad considering there were 75 competitors in her category. Still, Attar felt she could have done better on the beam. But she refused to go home and cry. “I’ll work harder next time,” she said, adding that her next goal is to perform a back tuck on the beam. 

Indeed, since taking part in the competition, the calluses on her hands have worsened. But they are her badge of honor. “My hands are rough but I like it,” she said. “It means that I am good.”

Sacrifices are also par for the course for any aspiring athlete. Attar has had to pass up her fair share of birthday parties and other events. “I don’t mind missing [out] sometimes,” she said. When asked if her dream is solely her own or if it’s one that her parents also wishes for her, Attar is resolute. “I want it. It’s my choice,” she said.

And her advice to other budding gymnasts? “Work hard, go to bed early, eat food that makes you strong,” she said. And, after a pause, “Don’t be scared.”