Judoka Yarden Gerbi became the toast of Israel late Tuesday night after winning the country’s first Olympic medal since 2008.
Everyone from President Reuven Rivlin to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to congratulate the 27-year-old Netanya native after she claimed a bronze medal in the women’s under-63 kilogram competition on Tuesday.
“You are our hero. You are a real champion and the entire country is proud of you,” Rivlin told Gerbi following her historic achievement.
“Yarden, you did it! We are all proud of you,” tweeted Netanyahu.
Gerbi claimed Israel’s eighth Olympic medal since it began participating in the Summer Games in 1952. She joined judoka Yael Arad (silver medal - Barcelona 1992), judoka 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) and windsurfer Shahar Zubari (bronze – Beijing 2008) on arguably the most prestigious list in Israeli sports.
Gerbi also became just the second Israeli woman to win an Olympic medal, the first since Arad 24 years ago.
“I’m so proud to be here with the medal around my neck. There are so many people I need to thank and I will do that personally, but thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way,” said Gerbi in a late night press conference at a Rio hotel. “I have been through a tough period, which culminated in a complicated day. It is hard for me to explain what I’m feeling. It is strange. This is my personal dream, but all of Israel is experiencing it with me. I’m so proud to represent Israel.”
Gerbi dedicated her medal to the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics, with Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the murdered athletes, at the judo arena to see her scale the podium.
Gerbi said that last week’s ceremony in honor of those killed at the Olympic Games held in the Place of Mourning, a memorial set up for the first time in the Olympic Village in Rio, inspired her and gave her added motivation on Tuesday.
Gerbi’s coach Shani Hershko, who has guided her since she was a child, spoke of the long road to the Olympic podium.
“Winning an Olympic medal isn’t a process which takes a year or even four years.”
he said. “Yarden trained for this moment her entire life.
“We had to understand that there were ups and downs and that the most important thing is to remain true to your principles.”
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who has watched Israel’s representatives at the judo arena since the start of the Olympics, couldn’t stop smiling and made the most of the opportunity to lift the spirits of the entire Israel delegation.
“I would like to thank Yarden for succeeding in uniting an entire country, which followed you and prayed for your success,” said Regev.
“I also want to thank all the Israeli athletes that didn’t reach Yarden’s status. We love you and know you did your best.”
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