Alice Schlesinger has had a rough three months. Throughout that period, the 21-year-old trained relentlessly for the Judo World Championships, which kicked off Wednesday in Rotterdam. The judoka, who competes in the under-63kg class, was entirely focused on a single goal - to bring a medal home to Israel, whatever the cost.
"I don't remember ever working that hard," said Schlesinger, who despite her Anglo-sounding first name is a native-born sabra. "For two and a half months I suffered. Almost every training session ended in tears."
The hard work paid off. Every aspect of the training program drafted by Schlesinger's boyfriend-coach Pavel Musin was progressing as planned - her weight had dropped to the target range, and she was feeling sharp, fast and up to the tremendous challenge before her.
But just a few days before her flight to the Netherlands, Schlesinger got a vicious sore throat and had to go on antibiotics. Only on the day of her flight did she stop the treatment.
Schlesinger never let up, getting as far as the quarterfinal bout against hometown favorite Elisabeth Willeboordse, the bronze medal winner in last summer's Olympics in Beijing.
Her weak condition took its toll, and she was defeated. Now in the "consolation" bracket, Schlesinger was given only seven minutes' rest after the exhausting bout.
After pushing past Portugal's Ana Cachola, Schlesinger was now ready for the battle of her life - only Vera Koval of Russia stood between her and the bronze medal.
"I went up to the mat with a very weird feeling," she said. "I told myself, 'I'm gonna kill her.'"
Musin helped her awaken her killer instinct. "You'll spit blood onto this mat," he told his fighter. "You're not leaving here defeated."
Schlesinger lunged at her prey, scoring a waza-ari (worth half of the one point needed to win a match), and ultimately winning.
"During the last few seconds, I already thought about a medal. I made a few mistakes because of the stress and the excitement, but I could see that she was already breaking," Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger ascended the winner's podium, and "saw Pavel, my parents and my sister sitting there. I could see the joy on their faces, and that's what moved me.".
"That wonderful feeling lasted for five minutes - I finished the match, went up to the podium, went back down, back to the hotel and that was it, it was all over," she said. "But those five minutes were worth every second of those three months."
Schlesinger's medal caps an otherwise lackluster weekend for Israel's judokas. On Thursday, Yoel Razvozov lost to Greece's Aris Kotandis in the men's under-73kg class, while Liraz Ben Melech fell in the women's under-57kg to Battugs Tumen-Od of Mongolia.
Arik Ze'evi, the 2004 Olympic bronze medal finalist, will compete today in the men's under-100kg class against the winner between Djamaldin Aliev of the U.S. and Azerbaijan's Elmar Gasimov.
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