Israeli judoka Yarden Gerbi put Israel back on the Olympic medal map after defeating Japan’s Miku Tashiro in the bronze medal round of the women’s 63-kilogram weight class at the Rio Olympics on August 9, 2016.
Gerbi’s bronze medal is Israel’s first medal at the Rio Olympics and the country’s first medal since the 2008 Olympic Games.
The 27-year-old pointed to the Israeli flag on her judogi (judo uniform) when she was announced the winner of the match. She then flashed a huge smile and pointed to her teammates and coaches.
“I am so proud to be where I am right now, with a medal around my neck. I will never forget this,” Gerbi told a press conference after her victory. “It is a personal dream for me that the entire Israeli nation got to experience this. I am proud to represent Israel and proud of the day of fighting that I had.
“I gave my soul and it paid off. Whoever said you can’t succeed in Israel is wrong. It will take me a little time to digest it all.”
Gerbi said she is dedicating the medal to the victims of the Munich massacre. Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, and Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, who are at the Rio Games, hugged Gerbi for her tribute. Judoka Yael Arad – who won the bronze medal at the 1992 Games – also dedicated her medal to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered at the 1972 Games.
From whoops of joy by fans in the stands in Rio to a l’chaim with champagne by Israeli journalists on live television back home, Gerbi’s win was savored and celebrated by all.
President Reuven Rivlin called Gerbi following her victory, and told her that “all the people here in Israel are excited together with you. We all held our breath and prayed for your success but at the end of the day the one who did it was you, you are simply our champion. Well done. Today you are our heroine.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter: “Yarden, you did it! We’re all proud of you.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who hugged Gerbi minutes after the match, told her: “Yarden, you are great. You fought like a lioness, and we are proud of you from Rio to Israel. You brought us great pride and the Israeli flag is flying today thanks to you.”
“I’m proud to have won this medal for Israel,” said Gerbi, who grew up in Netanya and now lives in nearby Moshav Herut.
Judo holds a special place in Israel’s sports pantheon, with the country’s judokas repeatedly winning international competitions. Gerbi’s third-place win now brings the total judo Olympic medals to four – out of a total eight medals won by Israeli Olympians.
“We have a great history in judo … I think when you know you have a good history, you believe you can have a good future. And every year we become more and more successful,” Gerbi, who has won 27 medals in the past three-and-a-half years, says in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs video that tells about her path to Rio.
Gerbi won all but one of her matches in Rio.
In 2013, she made history when she became the first Israeli woman to win the Judo World Championships. As luck would have it, that contest was also held in Rio De Janeiro.
— SussexFriendsIsrael (@SussexFriends) August 9, 2016