(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yarden Gerbi doesn’t believe in being diplomatic.
The 24-year-old judoka isn’t one to hide behind vague or evasive sentences. She is not shy about her beliefs and desires.
When asked to reveal her big dream earlier this week, Gerbi didn’t seek refuge in ambiguous terminology.
She stated it flat out.
She wants to win a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
After the remarkable 12 months she has just experienced, it seems only natural that Gerbi would aspire for the very top, and truly believe that she is capable of scaling the pinnacle.
She began 2013 as the second-best judoka in her weight class in Israel, but ended it as world champion and world No. 1, cementing her place as one of her country’s best medal hopes for the next Olympics.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the readers of The Jerusalem Post picked Gerbi as the Israeli Sports Personality of the Year ahead of the worthy Julia Glushko, Gal Mekel and Eran Zahavi.
“I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me. It is fun to know that people follow me and relate to me and appreciate my hard work,” she told the Post after being informed of her triumph.
“My selection as the Post’s Israeli Sports Personality of the Year gives me a lot of motivation to keep pushing forward. It makes me very happy to know that the public understand how successful this past year was for me and for the State of Israel.”
Gerbi missed out on a place at last summer’s Olympics, losing the showdown with Alice Schlesinger to be Israel’s lone representative in the under-63 kilogram competition. However, she never despaired and bounced back in extraordinary fashion this year, winning a bronze medal at the European Championships in April and becoming the first Israeli to claim a gold medal at the judo World Championships in Rio in August.
“I was very disappointed after losing the battle for a berth at the London Olympics. Nevertheless, I already knew in February 2012 that I wouldn’t be going to London and I still continued to compete and finished the European Championships in second place,” she said. “I felt that I ended the year on a sweet note, I took some time off and came back with renewed strength. I never despaired. I always felt that it was just another stop on the road.”
Gerbi entered the global championships as the world No. 1 in the under- 63kg category, the first Israeli ever to achieve such a status, and she completely dominated the field.
She needed just 43 seconds to defeat world No. 2 Clarisse Agbegnenou in the final, with the Frenchwoman losing consciousness following the Israeli’s near-deadly maneuver.
The Netanya native quickly realized that she had accomplished the achievement of a lifetime, but she didn’t celebrate or even smile in the moments that followed the referee’s declaration of her victory.
Gerbi set an example of true sporting behavior by being far more concerned at the time with the well being of her friend Agbegnenou, who lost consciousness after refusing to throw in the white towel.
Agbegnenou soon recovered and Gerbi finally caught her head in disbelief and emotionally embraced coach Shany Hershko, who has guided her since she was a child.
For over two decades, judo has been one of Israel’s most successful sports, but until Gerbi came along, no local judoka had ever won a gold medal at the World Championships.
“The beginning of the year wasn’t good, but I improved with every competition and picked up more confidence,” said Gerbi, who is currently training in Italy. “Of course the gold medal at the World Championships was the icing on the cake.”
There are still more than two years to go until the Rio Games and judokas will only begin to collect Olympic qualifying points this coming May.
Gerbi will be hoping to add the European title to her global one in April’s continental championships before targeting back-to-back gold medals at the worlds in August.
This may have been a dream year for Gerbi, but it is only the beginning.