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Israeli judokas revel in redemptive Olympic bronze medal as a unified team

CM 03/08/2021 3

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 There’s no question that there were high expectations going into these Games as each one of the judokas competing had won medals at Grand Prixs, Grand Slams, European Championships and World Championships. But one needs to remember that at some of those events the best of the best aren’t always present. At the Olympics, you can bet that the world’s elite will be there and ready to give it their all on the grandest stage in order to take home the gold.

To be sure, all of those other competitions are wonderful. The accomplishments of each and every one of the judokas – from Tohar Butbul to Gili Sharir and Timna Nelson-Levy to Li Kochman – consistently have demonstrated that they are worthy to represent the blue-and-white flag, but the Olympic Games proves who the cream of the crop really is and in this case, the Israeli team rather than the individuals rose to the top.
There was concern that the mental state of the judokas had been compromised and that Israel would be bounced swiftly in the team event after such a tough week on the tatami.
Knowing that all of the country’s eyes were watching them, Israel almost succumbed to the pressure as it fell behind Italy 3-2. With the critics sharpening their knives, the blue-and-white needed Olympic rookies Raz Hershko and Gili Sharir to pull it out of the fire by winning the last two bouts to advance to the quarterfinals and that is what they promptly did.

Against eventual gold medalist France, the Israelis jumped out to a surprising 3-1 lead but couldn’t hold on as they moved down to the repechage to take on Brazil. Wins by Timna Nelson-Levy and Peter Paltchik gave Israel a 4-2 victory and an air of confidence with a chance to capture a bronze.
This time facing the Russian Olympic Committee, Sagi Muki, Hershko, Paltchik and Nelson-Levy gave the nation of Israel something to jump for joy about, another medal at the Olympic Games while shaking that proverbial monkey right off of their collective backs.
“This was a day in which everyone gave it their all,” explained Muki. “If even one of us didn’t give all of their heart, this wouldn’t have happened. Each one of us is a fighter and the unity among us is what helped us win. We proved that we are one of the best national teams in the world. This medal is for the entire State of Israel.”
Sasson also reflected on the triumph.
“An injured animal is always the most dangerous. We were broken and we were able to come back and win a medal. We are a family and that is what willed us to success.”
Paltchik, too, was quick to cast praise on his teammates.
“Everyone eulogized us too soon,” Paltchik began. “This win was so important for the State of Israel and the next generation who are dreaming to succeed in sports and accomplish their goals. We may not have been able to win as individuals but together as a team, each and every one of us gave a little extra. We gave our all to have a medal placed around our necks.”
Finally, Smadja made sure to silence the critics once and for all.
“I want to bring my country joy. My father, one of the founders of judo in Israel, celebrated his 89th birthday and it was important for me to finish with a medal at these Games. He was very clear to me and said we would win a medal. He told me, ‘Oren, you won’t return home without a medal,’ as he told me in 1992.
“My name is now on eight Olympic medals, with six of them coming today.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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