Olympics-bound Ze’evi takes European gold

Ze'evi caps memorable weekend for Israeli Judo by being crowned European champion for the fourth time in his career.

Arik Zeevi (photo credit: Reuters)
Arik Zeevi
(photo credit: Reuters)
Arik Ze’evi capped a memorable weekend for Israeli judo by being crowned European champion for the fourth time in his career on Saturday, a day after Yarden Gerbi, Alice Schlesinger and Soso Palelashvili all won medals in the championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The 35-year-old Ze’evi almost retired four years ago after a disappointing showing in the Beijing Olympics, but he will now be entering the London Games brimming with confidence fresh off winning his fourth career gold in the Europeans, a first since 2004, when he also took a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics.
“I can’t believe I have won the gold for a fourth time,” said Ze’evi, who claimed his ninth total medal in the continental championships on Saturday, also taking gold in 2001, 2003 and 2004, a silver in 2005 and bronze in 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2010.
“These were my last European Championships and I can’t believe that they ended this way. I always hoped that this would happen, but never dared to dream about it out loud.
“This medal doesn’t give me any advantage ahead of the Olympics, but it does give me some confidence and I hope that I continue to succeed in London.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Ze’evi to congratulate him. “You have given us a lot of honor and hope,” said Netanyahu.
“I wish you that after the tears of disappointment in Beijing you will cry tears of joy in London.”
Ze’evi’s victory over Georgia’s Levan Zhorzholiani in the final of the under-100kg competition came a day after Gerbi, Schlesinger and Palelashvili all won medals of their own in the Europeans.
Gerbi recorded the greatest accomplishment of her career by claiming the silver medal in the women’s under-63kg competition, making up slightly for the disappointment of losing out to Schlesinger in the battle to represent Israel in the London Olympics.
Each country can only send one judoka to London in each weight category and Schlesinger had secured her berth even before taking the bronze in the under-63kg event on Friday.
Gerbi and Schlesinger very nearly met in an all-Israeli final, but France’s Gevrise Emane spoiled the party, beating Schlesinger in the semis and Gerbi in the final to clinch her fourth European title.
“I didn’t really target these championships because I’m in the middle of my preparations for the Olympics, but I still won a medal,” said Schlesinger, who took her third career bronze in the Europeans by defeating Urska Zolnir after also finishing third in 2008 and 2009.
Palelashvili looks set to join Ze’evi and Schlesinger in the Olympics after winning his first major medal on Friday, finishing third in the men’s under-73kg event.
The 25-year-old stunned two-time defending European champion Joao Pina of Portugal in the second round and beat Giovanni Di Cristo in the repechage to clinch a bronze.
As a result, Palelashvili climbed to No. 21 in the world rankings, meeting the International Olympic Committee’s criteria for the London Games.
He is still just short of the Olympic Committee of Israel’s requirements of being placed in the top-20, but nevertheless is expected to be part of the blue-and-white’s delegation.