Israeli Judoka wins Mongolians’ hearts on the path to win in the Olympics

Peter Paltchik won the bronze medal at the Mongolian Grand Slam at the end of June.

 Peter Paltchik smiling with a fan at the Mongolian Grand Slam. (photo credit: ISRAEL JUDO ASSOCIATION/COURTESY)
Peter Paltchik smiling with a fan at the Mongolian Grand Slam.
(photo credit: ISRAEL JUDO ASSOCIATION/COURTESY)

Israeli Judo star Peter Paltchik is back on the road to the Olympics after winning the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. He recently won the bronze medal at the Mongolian Grand Slam at the end of June and made news along the way for giving his shirt to a homeless man on the street.

“I took my shirt off, I gave him all the money I had in my pocket. I gave him those two things and he started to cry and I started to cry with him.”

Peter Paltchik

A good deed in Mongolia

Paltchik was grabbing a celebratory lunch for his head coach Oren Smadga’s birthday, when a homeless man named Nemhaa approached the small birthday gathering and started talking with them.

Paltchik said that after a waiter asked the man to leave, he and Smadga told Nemhaa he could stay and sit with them during their meal. “Along that hour we laughed together, we told each other stories and we even sang happy birthday to my coach,” Paltchik said. “It was a very nice time.”

The Israelis gave Nemhaa their leftover food and a bit of money before they went their separate ways. “[Nemhaa] was very emotional about that and he hugged us and he was very grateful and he went off.”

“I felt like we did something good, something important,” Paltchik said, who thanked God for putting him in that test. But he wanted to do more.

 Paltchik at the 2022 Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam. (credit: ISRAEL JUDO ASSOCIATION/COURTESY) Paltchik at the 2022 Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam. (credit: ISRAEL JUDO ASSOCIATION/COURTESY)

“After a couple of minutes inside the restaurant, I thought to myself that it wasn’t enough. So I ran out of the restaurant and I looked for him in the streets.”

About 200 meters away, Paltchik spotted the man and ran across the street to get to him. “I took my shirt off, I gave him all the money I had in my pocket. I gave him those two things and he started to cry and I started to cry with him.”

Both men told each other they wouldn’t forget each other, and the moment of connection was caught on camera by a passerby who posted it online. The photo went viral on Twitter with Israel’s official Twitter page reposting it and calling Paltchik a Mensch. 

“Being kind is worth more than all the medals in the world,” Israel’s Twitter page read, with a photo of a shirtless Paltchik underneath, handing his shirt over to Nemhaa.

Paltchik’s agent, Shlomi Waroner, spoke to his client’s character and how this act of kindness is emblematic of his overall nature.

“First of all he is an honest man,” Waroner said. “He’s really an extraordinary person. He has a really really big heart. I see how he treats children, how he talks with people. He doesn’t talk above them, he talks directly face to face with people.”

Paltchik credits Judo with helping make him a better person.

“I was a problematic kid, I grew up in a tough environment and Judo always was there for me to balance my life.”

While Paltchik didn’t expect anyone to notice him helping Nemhaa, he said that he was proud to see that his acts of goodwill could help shed a positive light on Israel.

“In the competition a couple of days afterward, I had a home crowd cheering for me and it felt amazing," said Paltchik. "I’m so grateful that I can do that kind of service for my country. I’m always proud to represent my country and I’m always proud to put my flag on wherever I go.”

He said that he felt his performance at the Mongolian Grand Slam was the best out of his most recent competitions. 

What is next for Peter Paltchik?

“I think I was a bit sharper, more prepared, in better shape,” he said. “I think I’m still not in the shape I was in before the [Tokyo] Olympics, but I’m getting there.”

His next big competition will be the World Championship this Fall, with a goal to continue collecting points to qualify for the Olympics.

"I want to put the gas on and go as hard as I can in every competition I go to.”

Peter Paltchik

“There is an Olympic Games in two and a half years,” Paltchik said. “I must be prepared.”

After the five-year wait for the 2020 Olympics due to the pandemic, Paltchik and other Olympians are facing their shortest Olympic cycle.

Usually, athletes take a year of physical rehabilitation and mental recovery after an Olympics before beginning the intense training for the next one, but Paltchik only took half a year off after the last Games because of the shortened cycle. 
Paltchik, a Ukrainian-born judoka who moved to Israel at 9 months old, competes in the under 100 kg weight category for Israel’s prominent Judo team. 

"I want to put the gas on and go as hard as I can in every competition I go to,” Paltchik said. “I want the gold medal and I know that I deserve the gold medal because my training is perfect for me,” he said, referring to not only his physical training but his sleep schedule, how he eats, and how he trains mentally. 

The Israeli Judoka is coming off of a 2nd place finish at the Paris Grand Slam, a 3rd place finish at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, a 7th place finish at the European Judo Championships Seniors Sofia, and most recently his third-place finish at the Grand Slam in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.