Almost 400 competitors from 53 countries came to Tel Aviv last week to compete in Israel’s first-ever International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Prix event.

The two-day event was the season opener for the World Judo Tour consisting of five Grand Prix, part of the two-year qualification campaign for Tokyo 2020. The event attracted 214 male and 159 female competitors from five continents.

Israel’s Or Sasson won the gold medal in the heavyweight men’s category at the IJF Tel Aviv Grand Prix 2019, beating his opponent from Ukraine. Photo by Sabau Gabriela/IJF

And as icing on the cake, Israel’s judokas came out on top with four gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal. Italy came in second with two golds, three silvers and one bronze.

Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Or Sasson won a gold medal in the 100-plus kilo category. The other gold medalists for Israel were Shira Rishony (-48 kg. women), Timna Nelson Levy (-57 kg. women) and Sagi Muki (-81 kg. men). The silver medalists were Gili Cohen and Inbal Shemesh. Tohar Butbul won a bronze.

Hilton Tel Aviv pastry chefs Idan Hadad, left, and assistant Dor Brawn made chocolate medals for Judo Grand Prix contestants staying in the hotel. Photo courtesy of Hilton Hotels Israel

According to the IJF, “Judo has dominated the discussion on the news and on the streets in Israel this week as the country has been gripped with judo fever. The contract to stage the competition was only signed 88 days ago in Abu Dhabi but the IJF’s first event in Israel has been long anticipated and filled the Shlomo Arena to capacity on all three days.

“The patriotic home crowd created an electric atmosphere with a cauldron of noise meeting the entrance of every judoka into the field of play and especially those from the host nation.”

The hashtag #JudoTelAviv2019 was the No. 1 trend on Twitter during the event, said the IJF.

“Fans were as vocal online as they were in the venue with the sensational performances of their athletes driving the discussion and making sure that a bigger venue will be required in 2020.”