Marquee Judo Grand Prix hits Tel Aviv

Top competitors from around the world in Israel to take on blue-and-white’s best on the mat.

ISRAELI JUDOKA Sagi Muki hopes to emerge from this weekend’s historic Tel Aviv Grand Prix with medals in his respective weight-class.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISRAELI JUDOKA Sagi Muki hopes to emerge from this weekend’s historic Tel Aviv Grand Prix with medals in his respective weight-class.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All eyes will be on Tel Aviv this weekend as the International Judo Federation will hold a Grand Prix in Israel for the first time in its history.
More than 400 judokas from 54 countries and five continents will descend upon the Shlomo Group Arena in north Tel Aviv as men and women alike will compete for the sports supremacy in the opening event of the 2019 world tour.
The atmosphere will certainly be fantastic as the host nation, Israel, will be represented by over 43 competitors in the three-day tournament in various weight classes with the objective of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Last year, the European Judo Championships were held in Tel Aviv and thanks to its success, Israel now has the fortunate privilege to welcome champions from across the globe to the Holy Land.
Israel has, of course, produced a number of judo greats over the years, including the country’s first ever Olympic medalist, Yael Arad, who captured a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games. That same Olympics saw Oren Smadja take home a bronze as a competitor and then pick up a bronze as Ori Sasson’s coach at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Arik Ze’evi also won a bronze as well at the Athens games in 2004.
With the retirement of 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Yarden Gerbi, Israel has begun to develop a new crop of champions who will be able to represent the blue-and-white for years to come.
Peter Paltchik, Tal Flicker, Sagi Muki and Sasson will all be on center stage from Thursday through Saturday as they’ll be joined by Timna Nelson Levy, Gili Cohen, Gefen Primo and Tohar Butbul in the quest to bring home the gold.
In fact, the podium is a familiar place for a number of the Israeli competitors having won at previous international tournaments, however winning a medal on home soil would be a career pinnacle for many of them.
In 2017, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, Tal Flicker took home the gold medal in his weight category of -66kg, but Hatikva was nowhere to be heard and the Israeli flag was not in sight as they were replaced by the IJF flag and anthem. The organizing committee in the United Arab Emirates banned their use and forced Flicker to stand alone singing the Israel national anthem to himself.
This past October the same tournament featured a stark contrast when the IJF said they would pull the competition from Abu Dhabi if Israel was to be treated differently than any other country; meaning Israeli competitors could not only wear their flag on their uniforms but should a medal be won and a gold captured, Hatikva would be played in all of its glory accompanied by the flag being raised to the rafters like any other nation.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Muki won the gold in the men’s -80kg division and Paltchik also took home the top spot in the -100kg category. Add to that three bronze medals and one could say that the Gulf was painted blue-and-white as Hatikva was played, flags were raised and Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, who was in attendance, was moved to tears.
Paltchik, who is ranked third in the world, told the IJF that he is looking forward to hosting the Grand Prix in Israel.
“I’m proud to have this event in my country for the first time. It’s a big dream for me and for my team to host one of the IJF events and I am very excited.
“We have a very strong team and I truly believe that we will succeed in every category. Many people from all over the county are planning to come and support both me and my colleagues. I promise we will do our best. I am thrilled to perform in my own country and to bring pride to Israel.”
Hosting the European Championships last year was the stepping stone to bring the Grand Prix to Israel, Paltchik explained.
“People aren’t riding on camels here. People came here and saw it’s a wonderful country and Tel Aviv is a crazy city and it’s beautiful here, with the beach and the sea, and it’s really fun here. People want to come here again.”
It’s clear that holding the IJF tournament in Israel is truly a triumph of sports over politics.
Chairman of the Israel Judo Federation Moshe Ponti can’t wait to get the tournament under way.
“There are only a few tickets left and the arena will be filled to capacity. This will truly be a celebration for sport in Israel and in particular for Judo. This is the realization of a dream, to host an international tournament at this level here in Israel.”

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi via email at sportsrabbi9@gmail.com