Israeli Judo Champ Yarden Gerbi Announces Retirement

The 28-year-old Olympic medalist said 'the fire had gone out' of her, a year after winning a bronze in Rio

A tearful Yarden Gerbi announcing her retirement from professional judo, on Monday.
Nir Keidar

Yarden Gerbi, the 28-year-old Israeli who won a bronze medal last year at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, announced Monday that she is retiring from the sport.

“I returned to training this year, and a fire was burning in me with the prospect of a new beginning and new goals, and no pressure,” she recounted at a news conference that she convened. “I was at training camp in Japan that was the best ever, and after that too, at a camp in Spain, I had no pain and no injuries.” But she then added: “The more I continued to train, I felt the fire inside of me going out. I turned into someone who was pondering whether to get up in the morning, and I tried to reinvent myself. Unfortunately, the fire had gone out completely.”

Gerbi said she had dreamed of competing in the European Judo Championships next year, which will be held in Israel. “But I wouldn’t be able to compete there giving it 100 percent. After a period of deliberating, I have decided to quit judo. I am ending my career with head held high,” she said, adding that she had pursued her judo career “without compromises.”

Rio: Women's 63kg Judo Contest for Bronze Medal

At the news conference, Jerbi recounted watching the 1992 Barcelona Olympics on television with her mother and seeing Israeli judokas Yael Arad and Oren Smadja become Israel’s first Olympic medalists. “I asked Mom how you buy a ticket to the Olympics. She explained that you can’t buy a ticket. You need to work hard to get there, and that’s where my dream began,” she said, noting that it was only at age 19 that she won her first significant medal. “And in 2013, I became a world champion.”

Her Olympic medal in Rio, she said, gave her a sense of being at peace with herself, of achieving her dreams. “The Olympic medal gave me a sense of eternal happiness. That’s how I feel. After the Olympics, I took a long and necessary vacation after years of injuries and crazy pressure.”

Yarden Gerbi celebrates after securing the bronze medal in Judo at the Rio Olympics on Tuesday, August 09, 2016.
Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters

She became choked up as she spoke about her fellow teammates, and said she was considering opening a judo club for children in Israel, in Netanya. “I could win a lot more medals, but as long as I don’t have the motivation, I can’t train,” she said. “People always ask me what’s better, being world champion or an Olympic medal winner, and I don’t need to choose because I have both,” she said.

Israel's Yarden Gerbi, in white, competes against Japan's Miku Tashiro during the bronze-medal round of the women's 63-kg judo competition at at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 9, 2016.
Markus Schreiber, AP