Israel's Tal Flicker Takes Bronze in World Judo Championships

Flicker was bested in the semi-finals by Mikhail Pulyaev of Russia

Tal Flicker of Israel fights with Georgii Zantaraia of Ukraine, August 19, 2017.
Tal Flicker of Israel fights with Georgii Zantaraia of Ukraine, August 19, 2017. LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS

Tal Flicker, the Israeli judoka who came to this week’s World Judo Championships in Budapest ranked world champion in the under-66 kilogram (132 lb.) weight category, picked up a bronze medal on Tuesday. After an impressive day of matches, Flicker lost in the semi-finals to Mikhail Pulyaev of Russia and proceeded to the consolation round for the bronze against Georgii Zantaraia of Ukraine.

It was a very well-matched battle, and for the fifth time on Tuesday, Flicker found himself dragged into golden-points overtime. Four and a half cumulative minutes later, he made a move that earned him a waza-ari and made him the fourth Israeli man in history to win the bronze. The others were Oren Smadja, his trainer; Arik Ze’evi, who won in the open-weight category; and Golan Pollack, who picked up a bronze medal in 2015.

One of the more memorable scenes from the world judo championship in 2015 came in a match between Pollack and Zantaraia, whom Flicker bested on Tuesday. The two aggressive fighters pinned each other to the mat, each trying to throw off his opponent. Finally, it was the Israeli who got the points, beating the Ukrainian and going on to win the bronze in the under-66 kilogram weight class.

Tal Flicker’s No. 1 ranking on arrival in Budapest was mainly the result of the competitions in which he took part during the post-Olympic year and from his successes in them. His bronze medal will earn the 25-year-old judoka 60,000 shekels ($16,800) from a joint fund of the Israeli Olympic Committee, the Israeli Sports Betting Board (Toto) and the Culture and Sports Ministry. He will also become a member of the senior team cadre in Israel, the golden team, which earns him a monthly stipend of 8,500 shekels. Speaking with Flicker Tuesday evening, President Reuven Rivlin called his bronze medal “just the beginning,” predicting that he would ultimately become a world champion.

On the eve of the team’s departure for Budapest, Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Fonti said there was no expectation that any Israeli would come back with a medal. But it seems that the Israeli team was determined to prove that in a post-Olympic year, without any of the team’s senior members present — Yarden Gerbi, Or Sasson, Golan Pollack and Sagi Muki — there were still Israeli judokas who would fight for a place on the winner’s podium.

Bronze medalist of the men’s -66kg category Israel's Tal Flicker celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony at the World Judo Championships in Budapest on August 29, 2017.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP

On Monday, Noa Mintzker, in her first appearance in a world championship, was defeated in the consolation round and finished seventh. On Tuesday, the bar was raised. Gili Cohen (under-52 kilograms women) finished fifth, but Flicker found himself on the podium.

Flicker began the day with a fine ippon, facing off against the Cuban Osniel Solis. The Israeli then faced three matches that reached golden-point overtime, and he won all of them. In the first, he scored a waza-ari against an opponent from Qatar, and then he survived a tension-filled six-and-a-half minute match against the Dominican Republic’s Wander Mateo, who took fourth place in the Rio Olympics. Flicker also defeated Mateo with a waza-ari.

Gili Cohen of Israel and Natsumi Tsunoda of Japan, in white, challenge in the quarterfinal round of the women's 52kg of the Judo World Championships in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.
Tamas Kovacs/AP

In the quarter-finals, he beat Dzmitry Minkou of Belarus, and after an exhausting five minutes and 43 seconds, he made it to the semi-finals, where he would face off against Russia’s Pulyaev. The Russian defeated Israel’s Baruch Shmailov on Tuesday, the second Israeli in the under-66 kilogram category, in the pre-quarter finals, and knocked him out of the competition.

On Tuesday evening, Gili Cohen met the Japanese judoka Natsumi Katagiri. Cohen looked stable and managed to neutralize her quick-footed opponent, but 15 seconds before the end, Katagiri executed a move that earned her a waza-ari. In the time left, Cohen tried to gain points at any cost, but her Japanese opponent scored another waza-ari.