Israeli judoka Ze'evi – gone in 43 seconds at the Olympics
Arik Zeevi was eliminated so quickly that his post-fight speech took much longer than his final Olympic fight.
LONDON - No one could have known how four years of preparation would end. Some forecasted glory, others feared a letdown. Yet who could have prophesied that medal hopeful Arik Zeevi would last just 43 seconds in his final Olympic appearance? That is all the time Dimitri Peters of Germany needed to defeat Zeevi by an ippon in the men's 100-kilogram elimination round of 32 yesterday.
"It's my blackest nightmare," Zeevi said an hour after the fight, when he finally emerged from the locker room.
Yesterday morning started in an altogether different manner. Dozens of Israelis painted in blue and white milled around the Canning Town train station and streamed into the ExCeL center, where they hoped to see Zeevi collect a second Olympic medal at the sunset of his illustrious international career. Zeevi's little daughter also was in the stands.
Seconds into the fight against Peters, Zeevi found himself on the mat. He tried to wriggle free and break his opponent's grip, but in the end he succumbed to the German's Juji-gatame, a powerful crosslock. Zeevi conceded 43 seconds into the fight and lost by an ippon. He spent several seconds facing the mat in disbelief. He then descended in shock to the dressing rooms, accompanied by his coach Shani Hershko.
When they passed by the Israeli reporters, they said not a word. Everyone left Zeevi alone at this difficult moment and waited a full hour outside the dressing rooms for him to emerge.
"It's a feeling somewhere between I can't believe what happened and I can't believe that I did so badly," Zeevi said, crying. Hershko's eyes were also tearing up. "I never imagined that the competition would end this way," Zeevi said. "It's too bad that in judo there's no second chance and no way to fix things. It's very painful."
About the fight, Zeevi said he had anticipated that his opponents would try to get him penalized, but that they wouldn't beat him by an ippon. "I felt good before the fight, focused," he said. "I think that I had too much self-confidence on my floor work. When I was put in a lock, I believed that I could get out of it, but suddenly he tightened it and everything happened so quickly. I don't remember the last time I lost in my first fight, certainly not at an Olympiad. The moment I conceded there was a feeling that I didn't believe, that this chapter of my life was over. I thought only about myself at that moment."
The 35-year-old athlete said the bottom line was that he failed big time, but that inside he knew he did everything he could. He said he didn't want to decide at this moment about the future. "After Beijing I didn't want to be on the mat any more, but I learned that one should never make decisions at these kinds of moments," he said. "I'll return with the family and my coach, and we'll see what lies ahead. It was my last Olympic fight, but it's hard to conceive that this was maybe the last fight of my career. I think about all the people who ordered tickets and flights and didn't even get to see a minute of competition."
Hershko said everything looked promising during the preparations for the fight, adding that he never dreamed of such an ending. He also said Zeevi was a little complacent and over-confident. "Everything can change in a split-second decision," he said.
Hershko went on to say that Zeevi never got the chance to show what he could do. "It pains me," he said. "I don't know what will happen now. It's safe to assume he doesn't have many fights left in his career."
The shock spread to the stands and members of the Israeli delegation. Some tried to shake it off quickly and went down to the locker room to console Zeevi. Others simply rushed off to catch the next train to Wimbledon and watch Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich play the Bryan brothers in the men's tennis doubles tournament.
On one thing everyone agreed: As great a disappointment as it was, there was no point in brutal analysis. It was a time to show respect and appreciation for Zeevi at this difficult moment.