LONDON - After Friday night's spectacular opening ceremony, the first of Israel's 38 at the London Games were in action on Saturday.
The first to participate was 20-year-old judoka Tommy Arshansky - a last-minute inclusion in the Israeli delegation - in the -60 kilogram men's event.
Arshansky was only cleared to compete at the Games two weeks ago, when his appeal against the Israel Olympic Committee's decision not to give him a place was upheld by tribunal. Despite not being in the world's top 20, Arshansky was awarded a place as an up-and-coming athlete.
Arshansky looked tense but focused ahead of his first appearance at the Olympics. His first bout, in the round of 32, was against Dutch judoka Jeroen Mooren, who is ranked third in Europe.
Arshansky began the bout hesitantly and with 1.25 minutes left, he was given a penalty by the judges for stepping out of the contest area. Neither competitor managed to record a score in the regulation five minutes, so the bout went into three minutes of "golden score" overtime, during which time any score would have been decisive.
Arshansky dominated overtime and when the bout ended without a score, the judges awarded the Israeli youngster the victory and a place in the next round.
Next up for Arshansky was Hiroaki Hiraoka of Japan, who was seeded second in the tournament, but the Israeli was undone by his relative lack of experience. With just over two minutes remaining, it appeared that Hiraoka had won by an ippon. However, after a brief consultation the judges decided instead to award him a waza-ari. Two more yukos sealed the Israeli's fate.
"I gave everything I had," Arshansky said when it was all over. "Hiraoka is one of the best judokas in the world, but I still don't think he's stronger than me. Give me another year or two and I'll be able to beat him. I'm delighted that I managed to remain focused throughout and that I made it through the first match."
Notwithstanding the early departure, coach Oren Smadja described Arshansky's performance as "admirable."
"I think I was more excited than him," said Smadja, who won a bronze medal at the Barcelona Games in 1992. "He fought hard and I am delighted with him. We had hoped that he could take the bout into overtime, but his lack of experience cost him. That will come in time. When he left the mattress I asked him if he gave his all. When he said yes, I told him that no one can expect anything more of him."
Moshe Ponti, chairman of the Israeli Judo Association, believes that Arshansky is a leading candidate for a medal at the 2016 Games in Rio. "If he works hard, he can do it," Ponti said. "It's amazing that he almost didn't make it to London at all."
The eventual winner was Russia's Arsen Galstyan, who defeated the top two seeds on his way to gold. In the final, Galstyan, 23, beat Hiraoka with an ippon just 40 seconds into their clash.
Golan Pollack enters the fray today, competing in the round of 64 of the Men's -66kg event against David Larose of France. Victory in that bout will pit the 20-year-old Israeli against Romanian Dan Fasie in the round of 32.
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