Beijing Olympics / Israel Shows Its Mettle Even Without a Medal

Judoka Gal Yekutiel falls in bronze medal match; swimmer Tom Be'eri sets new Israeli record.

BEIJING - Israel's athletes made a forceful debut on the opening day of the Olympic Games on Saturday, placing well in a number of events and coming close to winning a place on the winners podium.

The strongest performance came from judoka Gal Yekutiel, who on the first day of the competition came inches away from bringing home a bronze.

Yekutiel lost to the Netherlands' Ruben Houkes in the 60kg bronze-medal match after posting a series of impressive victories, placing him fifth.

Gal started off on Saturday with a brilliant victory against Mongolia's Khashbaatar Tsagaanbaatar, the bronze medal winner at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The match was balanced, but Tsagaanbaatar was more aggressive than Gal, who nonetheless managed to hold on, sending the match into extra time. In the first minute of extra time, Gal was victorious, scoring a koka, worth three points, that put him over the edge.

Gal then faced Russia's Ruslan Kishmakhov, whom he defeated, setting up his match with French judoka Dimitri Dragin.

Gal lost the match, and appeared at times both tired and slightly unfocused.

Yekutiel regained control in repechage matches against Georgia's Nestor Khergiani and Russia's Ruslan Kishmakhov, allowing him to continue to advance in competition.

Repechage is a practice among ladder competitions that allows participants who failed to meet qualifying standards by a small margin to continue into the next round.

Gal managed to overcome an early deficit to win by ippon, or one full point, setting up his bronze medal match with Houkes, which resulted in a loss despite his valiant efforts.

The judoka was visibly dispirited after the match.

"Of course I'm disappointed by the loss, but the Dutch competitor was simply better than me in this battle," he told reporters.

Gymnasts, swimmers advance

Israeli gymnast Alex Shtilov had a successful first day as well, advancing to the finals in men's artistic floor exercises with a score of 15.600.

His eighth place was enough to land him in the finals, which were to begin a week from Saturday.

"I'm very happy, it was a good competition from my perspective," he said. Swimmer Gal Nevo set a new Israeli record of 4:14.03, beating the record set nine years ago by Miki Halifa by 3.46 seconds. The 21-year-old finished 11th in the 400-meter men's individual medley.

In the women's 100-meter butterfly, Israel's Anna Gostamelsky swam a personal record 59.50 to finish in fourth place in her heat, but in only 36th place in the overall standings.

In the men's 100-meter butterfly, Tom Be'eri beat Vadim Alexeyev's former Israeli record by one-tenth of a second, clocking in at 1:02.42 for 42nd place in the preliminary heat.

Nevo, Be'eri and Gostamelsky will continue their competitions on Sunday. They will be joined by Nimrod Bar-Or Shapira and Guy Barnea in the men's 200-meter front crawl and 100-meter backstroke preliminaries respectively.

Israel's tennis representatives were also scheduled to enter competition Sunday, as Shahar Peer begins her Olympic run in the women's singles bracket, and in the doubles bracket with partner Tzipi Obziler.

In men's doubles play, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich were also to serve up their first match on Sunday.

Israel at the Beijing Olympic Games