World No. 6 Alice Schlesinger and World No. 9 Yarden Gerbi both expected to do better for Israel than their teammates at the World Championships in Paris. However, both suffered relatively early exits from the under-63kg competition, even as they were both vying for Israel's lone ticket to the London Olympics in that category.
Gerbi opened with a flash in the first round, throwing her Andorran rival Laura Salles Lopez for an ippon within 58 seconds. In the second round, she swept aside American Janine Nakao. Then her troubles began.
Urska Zolnir of Slovenia awaited Gerbi in the third round. She neutralized the Israeli and pinned her to the ground with an unforgiving lock. Zolnir, a bronze medalist in Athens in 2004, has owned Gerbi's number the past six months, beating her in four out of five meetings. She eventually won Pool B and finished with a bronze medal.
"I can't manage her style," Gerbi admitted after the match. "I'm disappointed. I wanted a medal, and in the first fights I felt that my judo was good, that I was strong and everything was alright, but it doesn't work against Zolnir. She's a problem by herself."
Schlesinger's showing was even more mediocre. She struggled in her opening match against Johanna Ylinen of Finland and managed an ippon only in the final seconds. In the second round, she lost to Austrian Hilde Drexler after being penalized. Drexler is to Schlesinger what Zolnir is to Gerbi, having beaten Schlesinger five times without ever losing to her.
"I am disappointed," Schlesinger said afterward. "I don't get the way she works. I think there was an official's mistake and I deserved a point I didn't get, but beyond that I didn't attack enough, I wasn't aggressive enough, and I simply wasn't good."
Despite the surprising exit, Schlesinger is still looking ahead. "After this competition my motivation only grew," she said. "I'll keep training hard and do what I can to improve."
Gerbi said she found no comfort in Schlesinger's early departure. "I didn't amass a significant number of points, and I'm not busying myself with that," she said. "My goal in every competition is a medal. I don't count points after every match, and I certainly still believe in my ability to reach London. Now I'll take a break for a week and not think about judo."
Saturday, Asaf Zohar will take to the mat, as will Arik Zeevi, Israel's last hope for a medal at the World Championships.
"Overall, I'm in good shape," Zeevi said Thursday. "A year before London, it will be a good practice to see where I stand. I drew a tough opponent, but to stand on the podium you have to beat the strongest. In every tournament in recent years, even when I was in less good shape, I aimed for gold, so of course I'll be the same on Shabbat. I really think I'm capable, it's just that there are 15 other competitors in my same situation."
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