Israeli icon Ze’evi ends illustrious judo career

Four-time European champion announces retirement two months after disappointing first round exit from London Olympics.

Arik Ze'evi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Arik Ze'evi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arik Ze’evi’s legendary judo career officially came to a close on Monday with an emotional press conference in Petah Tikva.
The 35-year-old’s final memory from the mat will be a bitter one after he was knocked out of the London Olympics just 43 seconds into his first round encounter two months ago.
However, his illustrious career and unique status in Israeli sports remained unchallenged and he failed to hold the tears back as he explained on Monday that he’s announcing his retirement despite still feeling fit enough to continue.
“The past couple of months were extremely difficult for me,” said Ze’evi at the headquarters of insurance company Migdal, which had sponsored him for over a decade.
“In the past, whenever I failed I always set myself new goals, but this time I realized that I have no more goals. That was very hard to accept. On the face of it there was no reason I shouldn’t continue.
Despite the outcome in London, I felt that I was in my best form since 2004.
However, I feel that an athlete should retire when he senses that he has lost the drive. I waited for the pain to disappear and for the competitive energy to return, but that never really happened.
“As soon as a realized that the drive had gone I understood that it was time to call it a day,” Ze’evi added. “At the end of the day it wasn’t such a difficult decision to make because I understood that there’s no way I can continue if I’m not 100 percent committed.”
Ze’evi became just the third Israeli to participate in four Olympics in London and made no secret of his plan to retire after the Games.
His career looked to be as good as over after his early exit from the Beijing Games four years ago, but the bronze medalist from the 2004 Athens Olympics eventually elected to fight on and was crowned European champion for the fourth time in his career in April.
Ze’evi, who also won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2001, overcame innumerable injuries and regained the continental title eight years after his previous triumph.
Not only is Ze’evi an Israeli legend, but he will also be remembered as one of Europe’s most eminent judokas after taking his ninth total medal in the continental championships, also claiming gold in 2001, 2003 and 2004, a silver in 2005 and bronze in 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2010.
“I’m very proud of what I achieved,” Ze’evi said. “I never imagined that I would record such accomplishments when I began to train in a dilapidated bomb shelter in Pardes Katz as a seven year old. I’m very proud that I had a chance to represent the country.”
Ze’evi is still unsure of his post-retirement plans, but he did rule out running in the coming elections for the Knesset, saying that being an MK “is not for him”.
However, he did admit that he wouldn’t turn down a chance to be the Olympic Committee of Israel’s next chairman after Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponti raised the idea on Monday.
“This is the first time that I have heard my name being mentioned in connection with this position, but this is one of those jobs that you cannot say no to,” said Ze’evi, who will join the coaching staff of the Israel junior judo team in the meantime. “I believe that I’ve still got plenty to contribute to Israeli sport.”