For over two decades judo has been one of Israel’s most successful sports. The country’s first ever Olympic medal came courtesy of judoka Yael Arad in Barcelona in 1992, with the likes of Oren Smadja and Arik Ze’evi also going on to win Olympic medals, as well as countless other titles in major competitions.

However, until Yarden Gerbi came along on Thursday night, no Israeli had ever claimed a gold medal at the judo World Championships.

Not only did the 24-year-old scale the top of the podium in Rio de Janeiro, but she did so in spectacular fashion.

Gerbi triumphed in all five of her battles with an ippon – judo’s version of a knockout – overcoming world No. 4 Kane Abe of Japan in the semifinals and world No. 2 Clarisse Agbegnenou in the final. Gerbi, the world No. 1 in the under-63 kilogram category, required just 43 seconds to overcome Agbegnenou, with the Frenchwoman losing consciousness following a near-deadly maneuver by the Israeli.

“This took a long time to sink in,” said Gerbi. “It’s like a dream. The last few days were very tense but finally my moment arrived.”

Gerbi missed out on a place at last summer’s Olympics, losing the showdown with Alice Schlesinger for Israel’s lone berth in the under-63kg competition.

Nevertheless, she didn’t allow the disappointment to discourage her and reaped the rewards of her hard work on Thursday, sobbing with HaTikvah playing in the background and the gold medal hanging around her neck.

“There are still three more years until the next Olympics and anything can happen,” said Gerbi. “I train really hard and I’ve suffered from a lot of injuries this year, but I’ve also won many medals.”

The Israeli Judo Association threatened earlier this summer not to send a delegation to Brazil due to financial difficulties, with Gerbi even claiming that she is forced to pay her own way in order to compete in tournaments abroad. However, with a NIS 100,000 bonus from the Olympic Committee of Israel now coming her way and sponsors likely lining up for a piece of Israel’s newest darling, Gerbi should not need to worry about financial issues at least until the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m begging, but it is pretty hard to live off NIS 5,000 a month,” she said. “I need the peace of mind that will allow me to focus on judo.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger