Mates on the Mat

Alice Schlesinger and Pavel Musin judo.

Alice Schlesinger
Profession: Judo (to 63 kg.)
Age: 23
Olympic Games: participated in Beijing, will participate in London
Outstanding achievements: gold medal in the European Under-23 Judo Championship (2009), gold medal in World Championship (2009)
Residence: Nes Tziona

Pavel Musin
Age: 36
Coaching since: 1996
Coaching Schlesinger: since 2003
Residence: Nes Tziona

Koby Kalmanovich

Anxieties other than those concerning sports competitions accompanied Alice Schlesinger and Pavel Musin to the Beijing Olympics. A few months earlier, a love affair had begun between the judoka and her coach. Schlesinger, 19 at the time, began to train under Musin, 13 years her senior, when she was 15.

“Falling in love was the most natural and wonderful thing for us, but we felt we had to hide it,” recalls Schlesinger. “Pavel was not only my trainer he was also training the Israeli women’s team. We were afraid that if people discovered the situation, they would separate us, and then how would I get to the Olympics? And even after I had already been accepted, how was I supposed to get there without Pavel? That’s why we hid our love affair.”

Perhaps the psychological pressure when added to a competition that is dramatic in any case for an athlete and coach “contributed” to the fact that Schlesinger lost in her only two competitions in Beijing. In any event, she continues “thereafter we once again couldn’t reveal our relationship because people would have said that I had lost because of it.”

A few months later, in December 2008, the couple made the announcement: “We’ve been in a relationship for a long time and we’re engaged.”

Immediately afterward, special committees convened under the auspices of the Israel Judo Federation and the Competitive Sports Unit of the Israel Olympic Committee.

“Pavel was forced to stop coaching the team, and we also came under a lot of criticism,” reveals Schlesinger. “Maybe we should have told people earlier, but the fact is that we felt uncomfortable about doing so. In the rest of the world, a love affair between an athlete and a coach is considered quite natural. But here for some reason it was considered unsuitable. We didn’t feel that we had to apologize to anyone.”

For over two years they’ve been living in a house in Nes Tziona. Musin has a 9-year-old daughter from his first marriage, who comes to sleep over. “Alice is coaching her in judo,” he smiles.

The combination of the professional and the personal is not always convenient, especially for Schlesinger: “On the one hand I can’t imagine training with a different coach. Nor will that happen. There’s no chance that Pavel won’t be at my side during all the trips, all the successes and disappointments, the injuries. On the other hand, he tends to bring his work home with him. To watch a video of my fights and to want to analyze them with me at home. And I don’t like to bring work home.”

Musin claims that a fiancee-athlete is not the easiest thing for a coach to deal with, either: “Alice has very strong opinions. I try to be tough and maintain distance with her, but that’s hard ... But all in all, our professional relationship is excellent."

There’s no question about the success of this professional relationship: Schlesinger is the best judoka in Israel since Yael Arad, and is now considered the leading hope for a medal in London.

“Alice is among the eight best judokas in the world for her weight class (63 kg.),” Musin says. “On any given day she is actually capable of beating anyone and bringing a medal. On the other hand, it’s also possible to lose.”

Musin, a former judoka who even defeated champion Arik Zeevi several times, today coaches dozens of students at his club in Rishon Letzion, but it’s clear at all times who his No. 1 pupil is: “From the moment I first saw her at the age of 15, I knew she had the potential to win the most important medals. I didn’t know which color of medal, but it was clear that Alice was worth one. When I was a judoka, one of the things that hurt me, aside from the injuries, was the fact that there wasn’t a single coach who was with me for the long haul. I’m very happy I have the opportunity to do that with Alice.”

Nine years of working together, four and a half years as a couple, three and a half years of being engaged and still no wedding?

“Everyone asks about that,” sighs Schlesinger. “Pavel has already proposed to me several times, and each time I said yes. It’s just that we have no time to get married. How can you get married when there are trips, competitions, training and goals all the time? I sincerely hope to get married only once in my life, and I want it to be fun, and when I don’t have other things on my mind. Maybe some time after the Olympics.”

Musin smiles: “I’ve been ready for it for a long time. But we’ll get married only the moment she decides.”