So, there I was at the Olympic Building – National Sports Center in Tel Aviv, having just visited the Olympic Experience Museum when it was announced that judoka Arik Zeevi was up next.
Excitement was in the air. Workers left their offices to congregate where there was a television. Everyone here knows Arik. They know how hard he has trained. They all have something nice to say about him as a person, not just an athlete.
Moments earlier I had seen a hologram of Arik telling visitors to the Olympic Experience exhibit how the most important moment of his life was when he won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and how he hopes to bring another medal.
I was invited to watch the U100-kg. match with one of the senior staffers, who I had been chatting to about the exhibit I had just seen (and which I am writing about for ISRAEL21c). What better place to watch Israel’s greatest judoka than at the Olympic Building?
And then, just as the match between Arik and Dimitri Peters of Germany began, it ended.
The people in the Olympic Building went into shock.
While Arik was crying in London, his fans felt his disappointment in Israel.
The despair at the National Sports Center was not just about Arik’s missed medal. People here were sorry that this was how such a great person and skillful athlete would be remembered at the end of his career.
People mumbled words like ‘unbelievable’ and ‘I just don’t believe it’ as they went up and down the stairs, back to their offices.
I wanted to tell them to go to the second floor Olympic Experience exhibit. Inside the third room, Arik’s hologram image sends shivers of pride through the room when he speaks about his medal win in Athens and how the fans in the stands impulsively belted out the Hatikvah in his honor.
There is a feeling of disappointment, no doubt. But Arik is much more than one misjudgment — even if it was made in a crucial fight.
Arik brought glory to Israel throughout the years in judo. We should remember that.