LONDON - Just 24 hours before making his debut at the Games, Golan Pollack spent Saturday accompanying his friend and fellow judoka Tommy Arshansky.
An hour and half before the start of competition, the two could be seen wondering around the ExCeL Arena, examining the mats and soaking up as much of the atmosphere as they could.
"This is Tommy's day, and I'm going to be by his side every minute of it," Pollack said. "I'm here for him."
At the end of the day, Arshansky declared himself pleased with his overall performance, and Pollack said he would do his best to continue the positive start. In the first round of the men's -66kg event, Pollack will face Frenchman David Larose, the winner of the last Grand Slam tournament, in Paris.
Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponti believes Pollack is the dark horse in his weight group. "If Golan can win his first bout," Ponti told Haaretz yesterday, "he can get through the second round too. Golan has a very specialized style and if he manages to stifle his opponent, he can give anyone a run for their money.
"Tommy's performance has whetted Golan's appetite," he added. "When one member of the delegation puts on a good show, it gives all the others added motivation to succeed."
Israeli coach Oren Smadja also believes that Pollack's style will make life difficult for his opponents. "We call him 'The Spider'," he revealed. "Not everyone likes competing against him because of his style. It's very difficult to get into the bout. He's been handed a tough draw, but that really doesn't matter. The moment he's in 'spider mode,' he can beat anyone. If he doesn't blink first, he'll win."
Asked about the special friendship between the two 20-year-old judokas, Smadja says: "They always ask to be roommates during training camps. They really gee each other on. In addition to their bonds as athletes," he adds, "they love each other like brothers. I know that Golan was upset when Tommy lost and took it almost as hard as Tommy himself. That's not unusual in the Israel delegation. Everybody looks out for everybody else. My prediction is that Golan will win his first three bouts. If he gets past the first one, it will be very hard to stop him."
Arshansky, too, appreciates his friend's encouragement. "It was important for me to know that Golan was by my side," he said. "He helped me warm up and I will help him before his bouts."
After Arshansky's elimination from the competition, Pollack trained for around an hour ahead of his big day today and then rested. "I love Tommy and I'm so pleased that we're experiencing our first Olympic Games together," Pollack said. "We've been friends since we were little boys and, strange as it may sound, when he does well, so do I. I'm ready for the big day. If I am focused, nothing can stop me."
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