(photo credit: REUTERS)
Making history is nothing new for Yarden Gerbi.
In the summer of 2013, she became the first Israeli to be crowned as a judo world champion, taking the gold medal in the under-63 kilogram event in Rio.
Just under three years later, she won another medal in Rio, one of far greater significance. Gerbi, 27, may have only been standing on the third step of the podium this past August, but she was nevertheless realizing a lifelong dream by claiming a bronze medal in the Olympic Games.
Gerbi had been under intense pressure to scale the Olympic podium since making her breakthrough three years earlier, especially with Israel’s medal drought at the Games stretching back eight years.
It had been 2,991 days, or a little under eight years, since an Israeli won an Olympic medal. Windsurfer Shahar Zubari was the last to do so, taking a bronze at Beijing 2008.
For the first time since Seoul 1988, Israel didn’t win any medals in a Games in London 2012, turning up the heat on the country’s representatives ahead of Rio, in particular those with a realistic chance of winning a medal like Gerbi.
The heartbreaking defeat to Brazil’s Mariana Silva in the quarterfinals may have broken a weaker character, but after overcoming so many setbacks in her career, Gerbi knew how to channel her frustration in the right direction.
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She won twice in the repechage to take the bronze, breaking out in tears when she understood she had finally fulfilled her dream.
It should therefore come as little surprise that the readers of The Jerusalem Post selected Gerbi as the Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2016.
Fellow judoka Ori Sasson was a close second, with Paralympian Doron Shaziri finishing third.
Guangzhou R&F and Israel national team star Eran Zahavi and Hapoel Beersheba coach Barak Bachar were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Gerbi became just the second twotime winner of the award, joining Shahar Pe’er (2007, 2010). Other former winners include: Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro (2008), basketball player Omri Casspi (2009), windsurfer Lee Korzits (2011), Paralympic wheelchair tennis gold medalist Noam Gershony (2012), basketball coach David Blatt (2014) and Paralympic rower Moran Samuel (2015).
“I’m very happy and proud to be chosen as the The Jerusalem Post’s Israeli Sports Personality of the Year,” said Gerbi. “I work very hard in order to register my achievements and I’m happy that people cherish and appreciate that. Thank you to everyone who selected me. Happy Hanukka to everyone and may it be a great new calendar year, at least as good as the previous one.”
Gerbi may excel in a combat sport, but Israel couldn’t have asked for a better role model. She is a class act both on and off the mat and Israelis everywhere were captured by her charisma in Rio.
“I’m here to give my heart and soul to win. Please don’t wake me up. I have realized my dream,” said an elated Gerbi shortly after her triumph in Brazil.
“People don’t know the sacrifices I have made since a young age but it was all worth it. I always believed in myself and it means so much to me to make so many people happy.”
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