israeli judoka girls 298.
(photo credit: Israel Judo Association)
Yael Arad's silver medal in the judo competition at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics will forever be one of the most memorable moments in the history of Israeli sports.
The judoka gave Israel its first ever Olympic medal and in an instant elevated judo to the level of a national sport. Children, inspired by Arad's feat, raced to the nearest judo class and dreamed of emulating their hero's achievement.
After 14 years in which no female Israeli has come close to duplicating Arad's success, two teenagers, touted as the golden girls of Israeli judo, are looking to restore some of the glory that Arad brought to the Jewish state.
Alice Shlesinger and Tania Siman Tov are already multiple medal winners at junior international competitions and are expected to achieve similar success at the senior level.
But before the two take the judo world by storm, 19-year-old Siman Tov and Shlesinger, six months her junior, will compete in the junior level for one final time this weekend, in the World Junior Judo Championship in the Dominican Republic.
"This is my final junior competition and I hope to win a medal," Siman Tov told The Jerusalem Post before flying out to the world championships.
Siman Tov has not taken part in any competition in the last six months due to injury, but the double European Junior champion in the under 48kg category (2004-2005) will not let that fact lower her expectations.
Shlesinger, who won the bronze medal at the 2004 World Junior Championships, has also been suffering from illness during the past six months and only returned to action last month for the Junior European Championships, where she won the silver medal in the under 63kg category (the same category as Arad).
"My aim is to improve all the time," Shlesinger said. "We have worked on several new elements since the European championships which I would like to implement in these championships. I think the world championships will be much tougher than the European one."
The girls will be guided in the Dominican Republic by national coach Pavel Mosin, who is demanding success from his young prodigies.
"The girls have barely competed in the last six months, but I trust their character. I always expect my athletes to win a medal," Mosin said. "Both girls have unbelievable character.
They don't care who the opponent is and they just do the job at hand. They are very experienced sportswoman despite their young age. I expect medals from both of them."
Shlesinger and Siman Tov will join the senior (20+) circuit on a full-time basis next year. The character Mosin speaks about was evident when the youngsters talked of the difficulties they might face.
"I'm not afraid of competing against the seniors," Shlesinger declared. "I'm looking forward to facing them."
Siman Tov's response was similar. "I'm not worried about competing against the seniors," she said. "I've faced them from the age of 16."
Mosin said he believes the two will reach the top of European judo.
"I don't think they will have any difficulties in the senior circuit," he said. "I have no doubt that they will achieve good results in the seniors. They are leading fighters in Europe, at any age category."
If Shlesinger and Siman Tov are to join Arad as legends, they will need to win Olympic medals.
"Taking part is not a goal," Siman Tov said of the Olympic Games. "You have to participate and win. I hope I will live up to my own expectations. I have two more years to practice and compete before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing."
The president of the Israeli Judo Association, Eddy Koaz, views 2012 as a target rather than 2008.
"There is an extraordinary generation of female fighters developing at the moment," Koaz said on Monday. "This team has a bright future and the medalists of the London 2012 Olympics will come from this group."
Mosin thinks that success can already be achieved at the 2008 games, but like Koaz feels that the chances of an Olympic medal might be greater in the future. "The girls are very young and will only be 20 years old in 2008. In judo you only peak at the age of 24-26, he said."
Like Siman Tov, the coach wants to do more than just participate. "I always want to win a medal.
However we should first get to Beijing and then we can speak about winning a medal. Two years is a long time."
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>