The Friday Interview: Israel's first medalist outlines her secrets for Olympic success

Yael Arad, who made history 16 years ago, hopes for a repeat performance.

yael arad 88 (photo credit: )
yael arad 88
(photo credit: )
Winning an Olympic medal is always special, but Yael Arad's judo silver from Barcelona 1992 will forever be regarded as a unique achievement. Becoming the first Israeli to step up to the Olympic podium not only cemented her place in the country's sporting history, but made her a household name overnight. The Jerusalem Post caught up with Arad, 41, who is in Beijing to commentate on the judo competitions for Channel 1, to hear her thoughts and feelings just 24 hours before the start of the Games. As always all the talk surrounding the delegation ahead of the Games is on which athletes will return to Israel with a medal around their neck. Arad wasn't willing to name favorites, but said she has no doubt what will be the decisive factor should Israel claim a medal for a fifth straight Games. "The key to success at the Olympics is mental strength. All the 10,500 competitors at the Games are very talented, they all work hard and they all want to do well. The difference between an athlete who is a world champion in training and someone who is crowned world champion for real is in the head. This is what makes the difference at the Olympics," Arad noted. The judoka, who narrowly lost in the final of the 61-kilogram competition to Frenchwoman Catherine Fleury-Vachon 16 years ago, added that she believes all the commotion surrounding the Games is often what puts off the athletes from performing at their very best. "I feel that to do well at the Games the athletes must neutralize all the distractions which surround them. You need to ignore all the free food and quickly overcome the excitement of all the ceremonies," she said. "You must treat the competition as if it's a world championship, which in itself is a very important and tense contest. Neutralizing all the surrounding fuss is the key to success." Three Israelis will participate in the judo competitions in Beijing, but according to Arad only one has a chance of making any real impression on his event. "Arik Ze'evi is a superb athlete and is also very experienced," she said. "He's past his peak, but he's proven his ability many times in the past. I think that he can definitely compete for a medal and should at the very least finish among the top five. The competition always takes on its own dynamic and I believe that his experience and ability will play a key role." Arad's expectations from Alice Shlesinger and Gal Yekutiel, who will be the first Israeli to compete in the Games on Saturday, are much lower. "Gal has yet to reach his peak and he's not at the very top of his weight category yet. I think that his goal should be to finish in the top eight and if he manages to do that it will be a success," Arad said. "Alice is a very young and talented athlete. I think that she's not ready for these types of competitions yet. She can definitely spring a surprise, as she's a very good competitor, but I feel that every round she passes in the event should be treated as a bonus ahead of the 2012 Games." Arad will always be Israel's first Olympic medalist, but she's hoping that in Beijing another of her countrymen will join her and four others on the exclusive list of Israelis to win Olympic medals, and will get to experience the life-changing triumph. "You work so hard for so long, investing your entire life in the hope of completing one goal, so when it happens you are overcome by a sense of self-fulfillment which changes your life," she said. "I think that Olympic success changes you, first and foremost, because it gives you a tremendous sense of satisfaction," she said. "There's nothing like it."