(photo credit: OLYMPIC COMMITTEE OF ISRAEL)
Ilana Kratysh was walking around Kfar Maccabiah two weeks ago with a smile on her face. She seemed to be talking to everyone, involved in every picture, making the rest of the Olympic delegates laugh.
“I know everybody,” she said.
“We always have lots of projects together, meeting. I kind of feel like I grew up with them. Israel’s a small country, it’s easy to know everybody.
The wrestler is not as menacing in person as she is in pictures of her on the mat. She’s preparing to be the first Israeli woman to wrestle in the Olympic Games. Not only is she the first, but she has a serious chance to medal; she finished in second place in the European Games last year and defeated the 2014 champion, Germany’s Aline Focker, in the semifinals.
She thinks she can continue this type of performance.
“I’m trying to be always confident in everything I do,” she said.
Wrestling wasn’t actually Kratysh’s original sport. When she was five years old, she began training in judo, a similar form of fighting that uses different techniques and records points differently.
Her dad coached her. He didn’t play competitively, but she gained experience under his eye. However, when she was 20, she had suffered finger injury that required surgery. By the time she was fit to return, the rules of judo had changed. It was a different sport than she had grown up with.
“I had to decide how I will get my dream to come true, so I started wrestling,” Kratysh sad.
In her first tournament, she finished in third place.
“After that I said, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not that bad,’” she said.
She needed a new trainer and some professional guidance. It was nothing against her father; in her words, “my dad is my world.”
“He always supports me in everything and in every decision I made,” she said. “Thanks to him and to all my family, I had all my success.”
She simply needed to be at a higher level against better athletes.
She needed more competition so she could master new techniques.
Laughing, she added that she never did wrestle her dad.
“He actually beat me on basketball, but we didn’t try to wrestle,” she said. “I tried to keep him for a while, I need him,” she said.
Instead, she eventually found herself in Montreal. Kratysh trained there for two years.
“It was a nice place, I loved it,” she said. “It was actually a great facility.”
She worked with Victor Zilberman, whom Kratysh described as one of the greatest coaches in the world.”
“I really got in to the system,” she said. “We were working hard physically, technically and mentally. I felt myself progressing in every step, every second of every day.”
This allowed her to learn a new style of wrestling and master a unique technique. She wouldn’t expand, calling it a secret, but said that nobody in the world uses it.
The only detail she gave was that, “It’s my special moves that I mixed all together.”
Montreal didn’t just improve her physically; it’s made her more confident. The woman who has been wrestling for only six years has a legitimate chance to perform well at the Olympics.
“For the first time, I opened my eyes and realized that I’m going to be the best in the world,” she said. “I knew I can beat anybody, I just need to believe in myself and to be consistent in every step that I do. That will make me the best Ilana possible.”