When Arik Ze'evi left the Olympic mat for the final time after just 43 seconds, he did so with his head bent and a tear in the corner of his eye. He didn't believe that it would be so short, so painful. On the way to the dressing room, the embittered judoka was visibly crying and he asked for a few minutes to himself. The sight wasn't easy, and made many other Israelis weep.
Four years ago in Beijing, Ze'evi was considered a prime medal candidate. After losing in the consolation bracket, he sat alone in the dressing room for an hour. He did not come to London as a favorite - he was the oldest judoka in his weight class - but even at age 35 and without much chance against a difficult opponent, the emotions arose once again.
After all, this is Arik Ze'evi, and this is one of the things that make him a great judoka and a terrific person. He is big, strong and tough as nails, but at the same time he is sensitive with a big soul. It's also the reason he has won the love of so many.
No one wants to finish their career this way. Ze'evi knows it, and was consumed by the feeling after the fight. What bothered him was not just the way he lost the fight, but also that this was his first fight of the London Olympics and that he knew he'd been a disappointment, first of all to himself. The moment he spoke of it, even an hour later, the tears returned.
Ze'evi failed miserably at the last two Olympics. He is the first to admit it. Yet one should remember that despite judo being one of Israel's two most successful Olympic sports, the only Israeli to win a medal in judo since the 1996 Games is the kid who started his career in a bomb shelter in Pardes Katz.
Ze'evi won four European championships and he is still the reigning champion. Europe is a growing judo power, and about half the judo medals in London are going to the old continent. Israel probably invested too much money and resources in Ze'evi over the past two Olylmpiads, but without investing, the results clearly would have been no better.
Ze'evi has yet to decide about retirement. He wants - and rightly so - time to think it over with his coach and family, but this time retirement is surely around the corner. He has known ups and downs, great successes and searing defeats like yesterday.
In practice, his great career ended quickly and unpleasantly, but now is the time for wiping away the tears and showing some sympathy for a man with a great heart.
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