Ori Sasson of Israel's Judo team.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After Israel had to wait just under eight years, or to be more precise, 2,991 days, for a first Olympic medal since Beijing 2008, it took just three more days for the next to follow.
Ori Sasson claimed the bronze medal in the judo men’s over- 100 kilogram competition on Friday, giving Israel two medals in a single Olympics for the first time in 12 years after fellow judoka Yarden Gerbi had ended the drought three days earlier.
Israel had gone without an Olympic medal since windsurfer Shahar Zubari won a bronze eight years ago.
Sasson took Israel’s total medal tally to nine since it began participating in the Summer Games in 1952. He joined judokas Yael Arad (silver – Barcelona 1992) and Oren Smadja (bronze – Barcelona 1992), windsurfer Gal Fridman (bronze – Atlanta 1996, gold – Athens 2004), canoer Michael Kolganov (bronze – Sydney 2000), judoka Arik Ze’evi (bronze – Athens 2004), Zubari (bronze – Beijing 2008) and Gerbi on arguably the most prestigious list in Israeli sports.
“My dream came true in front of my eyes,” said an emotional Sasson. “I have worked so hard for this. I’ve had so many wins and so many losses and today was my day. I defeated all my fears. Two years ago I was considered a medal candidate in competitions, but I didn’t believe it deep inside. I only started believing in the past couple of weeks and everything fell into place.”
Sasson was congratulated over the phone by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the end of Shabbat in Israel.
“Every boy and girl saw not only a great athlete but a man with values,” said Netanyahu.
“You showed the true face of Israel, its beautiful face.”
“We were excited with you and we are proud of you,” said Rivlin. “You brought our country honor when you walked up to your Egyptian opponent to shake his hand. All of Egypt is talking about you.”
Sasson’s day began with controversy, with Egyptian opponent Islam El Shehaby refusing to shake his hand after being defeated with an ippon, judo’s version of a knockout, 1:36 minutes to the end of the first round bout.
“He was very emotional, full of hate,” Sasson said of his Egyptian opponent. “I felt he was more nervous than usual.
I came to do my job and coped with the situation well. Judo is built on mutual respect, but unfortunately that was not the case.”
Sasson is the first Jerusalem native to win a medal and his father, Itzhak, who was watching his son on TV from Israel’s capital, was swept away by emotion. “He told me that he will win a medal and I always felt that he would do it,” said Itzhak. “He did it in style against the best judokas in the world. I can’t describe how happy I am. It is a dream come true.”
Sasson entered the day with high expectations. Israel’s first three participants in the judo events all lost in their opening bouts.
However, the atmosphere in the delegation changed completely when Sagi Muki came within one win of taking a medal in the men’s under-73kg.
contest on Monday. Yarden Gerbi then became the toast of Israel by claiming the country’s first Olympic medal in eight years when she took a bronze in the women’s under-63kg.
competition on Tuesday. With Linda Bolder also ending the women’s under-70kg. event in a respectable seventh place on Wednesday, Sasson came into the competition with plenty of momentum. He claimed silver medals at the past two European Championships and took a silver in his final event before Rio at the World Masters in Guadalajara, Mexico.