European champion Arik Ze'evi will begin the defense of his title when the European Judo Championship gets underway in Bucharest tomorrow. Ze'evi, competing in the 100-kilogram class, will head a delegation of 11 Israeli athletes to the championship.
Ze'evi, Udi Wax and Yoel Rozbozov have already secured a spot at this summer's Olympic Games, while Israel's other hopefuls Gal Yekutiel and Michal Feinblat will be hoping for a successful tournament to book their place in Athens.
Feinblat, 20, the bronze medalist in the 52 kg class at the European under-20 championship two years ago,is currently ranked fifth in Europe and if she holds her ranking, she will meet the Olympic criterion - a top-five finish.
Yekutiel is ranked seventh in Europe, but in the men's category, a ninth place finish will suffice for a place in Athens. The super lightweight - 60 kg class - judoka suffered a knee injury in the run-up to the championship but said yesterday he was confident of qualifying for the Games. "I've undergone a lot of physiotherapy and I'm fine. I believe I'll finish in the top five. I will be at the Olympics."
Also competing in the women's event are under-16s Tania Simantov, 48 kg class, and Alice Schlesinger, 75 kg. The two are both Israeli champions in their class and are regarded as potential competitors for the 2008 Olympics.
"Tania and Alice both possess extraordinary potential and are attending the championship to gain experience. They may be juniors but they have both beaten Olympic medalists this year. Our focus in the tournament, however, will be on Michal Feinblat. She's only been competing at senior level for two years and if she makes it to Athens, that will be a real bonus for us," said women's team coach Shuki Koaz.
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