Yekutiel just misses out on judo medal

26-year-old in tears after losing to Dutchman Ruben Houkes in bronze medal bout.

yekutiel olympics 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
yekutiel olympics 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Gal Yekutiel came achingly close to winning Israel's first medal of the Beijing Olympics on the opening day of competition on Saturday. The 26-year-old experienced the heartbreaking side of the Games, losing to Dutchman Ruben Houkes in the battle for the bronze medal of the under-60 kilogram judo competition at Beijing's Science and Technology University Gymnasium and finished in fifth place overall. Yekutiel fought like a lion through the entire day, but his heroic display ended in bitter disappointment and he will have to wait four more years if he's to join the select group of five Israeli Olympic medalists. "I'm very disappointed and this defeat hurts like hell, but I'm proud of my performance today," a teary eyed Yekutiel told reporters after the bout. "I'm obviously not ready to win a medal yet. I will be crying in my room tonight." Yekutiel, who was competing in his second Olympics, did well to get past Athens 2004 bronze medalist Tsagaanbaatar Hashbaatar of Mongolia in his first contest of the day, but lost concentration for a split second against Frenchman Dimitri Dragin in his next fight, suffering a defeat that could have ended his competition. He got a second chance, however, after Dragin reached the semifinal and in the repechage Yekutiel recorded three impressive victories to advance to the battle for the bronze medal. Two tight wins, the first against the silver medalist from four years ago, Nestor Khergiani, and the next over Russian Ruslam Kishmakhov, set up a fight against Britain's former world champion Craig Fallon. Yekutiel fell behind early against Fallon, but came back from the substantial deficit and recorded a dramatic victory to move within one victory of a medal. Unfortunately for the Israeli the taller and bigger Houkes kept Yekutiel at bay throughout the medal fight and the reigning world champion dominated the Israeli on his way to the podium. "I wasn't able to do what I had hoped in the final fight and now all that I can do is to continue to work hard and improve," said Yekutiel, who revealed he will likely be back for the Games of 2012 in London, England. "All in all, each of my opponents was very good. They were all former medalists from world or European championships, and my final ranking of fifth is good." Yekutiel's coach Alex Ashkenazi said he believes a mental block ended his fighter's dreams of a medal. "It's all in the head. A fight for a medal is a big responsibility and Gal couldn't win it," he said. "In many big competitions he finished in fifth place, losing to different opponents, so it's clearly a mental problem." The judoka didn't entirely agree with his coach's assessment and said he struggled against Houkes for a different reason. "I couldn't handle the Dutchman's grip and that's why I lost." he said. "Ashkenazi usually knows what he's speaking about so if he believes that it's a mental problem he could be right." Summing up his competition, Yekutiel couldn't hide his frustration. "I've been through a tough day. It was very long and difficult and I claimed victories against some very good opponents and almost won a medal. It's a pity the day didn't end the way I had hoped."