Thirteen-year-old judo champ takes on the big boys

Swedish wunderkind Joel Mankowitz arrives in Israel this week for the Maccabiah Games.

judo generic 88 (photo credit: )
judo generic 88
(photo credit: )
Swedish wunderkind Joel Mankowitz arrived in Israel this week for the Maccabiah Games, in which he will compete as a judoka against boys two and three years older than him. Thirteen-year-old Mankowitz had his bar mitzva just two months ago and has already competed at least five times outside his home country. For the Maccabiah, the judo champ's coaches successfully advocated to the event organizers to place Mankowitz in a division that meets his athletic capabilities. Despite the competition being divided by age groups, Mankowitz will therefore be competing this summer against 15-year-olds in the Games. Joel Mankowitz began judo training when he was only six years old. His father, Raymond, a professional judoka, taught a beginners class at a local center where judo was, to that point, unavailable for young children. While Mankowitz Sr. trained all three of his children, it was obvious to him from the start that Joel was the most promising fighter. He then enlisted two former judo professionals, Gohan and Berren Hult, to take his son to the next level. "He's quite good," said Raymond. "Last year, he was only 12 and he was winning all these competitions in Sweden. He won on a national level when the limit was boys born in 1994 [Joel was born in 1997]." According to Raymond, Joel regularly competes in golf and soccer as well, although he's chosen only to participate in the judo portion of the Maccabiah Games. Back home, Joel practices almost daily and competes in weekly judo meets. His first international competition was in Denmark last year, for which he qualified by beating the former Swedish champion in 2007. Joel also participated in the 2008 Junior Finnish Open and was the only Swedish youth to return home with a medal. This will not be the first time a Mankowitz participated in Maccabiah. In the 1950s, Joel's great-uncle took home several gold medals for wrestling. Joel's mother, Gennifer, who is a professional golfer, competed in the 1999 Games, and is participating again this year. His father competed in the Games during the 1980s but "only took a bronze" against his Israeli opponents. "This is another competition for Joel, but he hasn't heard a lot about the Maccabiah and it's a fantastic opportunity for him to be in Israel," said Raymond Mankowitz. Joel's father said his son is considering the Olympics as a future prospect but is taking things "one step at a time." In the meantime, Joel's primary ambition is to become a "Nordic Champion." Judo has long been a popular sport in Israel, with the country's most famous judoka, Arik Ze'evi, taking home a bronze medal from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The judo competitions at the Maccabiah will be conducted according to the rules of the International Judo Federation. The training for participants has been at the Judo Hall at the Wingate Institute, while the actual competition is scheduled to take place at Hadar Yosef in Tel Aviv, with the finals being held on July 20.