After several disappointments and missed opportunities by the Israeli delegation to the World Judo Championships in Russia, Yarden Gerbi won the silver medal after losing by an ippon to Frenchwoman Clarice Agbegnenou in Thursday’s final in the under-63 kilo category.
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Agbegnenou looked sharper and within half a minute achieved a yuko. Gerbi sought the appropriate hold and hoped for points, but within a minute and 35 seconds Agbegnenou completed a polished ippon that gave her the world title.
“When you get to the final you always want to win,” Gerbi said after the bout. “I wanted them to play ‘Hatikva’ on the podium so that the end would be perfect, but after this crazy year any medal is a good sign. Before the competition I asked [coach] Shany [Hershko] ‘How will I get to the world championship like this?” and he said to me: ‘Like a wounded animal, you’re going to kill yourself for the medal.’ I proved to myself that I’m stubborn, that it’s not over until it’s over. I don’t even know what I did in the semifinal, maybe it was instinct. We knew that the final would end in an ippon – she was simply ahead of me all the time. It’s frustrating and annoying, I knew that I could throw her but things didn’t work out. I’ve proved to myself that in the major competitions I do manage to do it, but there’s still a long way to go.”
“I’m proud of Yarden and happy for her,” added Hershko. “We singled out the World Championships as a target competition. I said that we were preparing for one competition and there were many problems along the way.”
For winning the silver medal Gerbi will receive a grant of 70,000 shekels ($20,000) from the joint foundation of the Olympic Committee of Israel, the Sports Betting Council (Toto) and the national sports administration. Hershko will receive 35,000 shekels.
Gerbi, 25, after a difficult season that including a mental letdown as a result of winning the crown last year and quite a few fears in advance of the present competition, proved that she is destined for the big time. A silver medal in this complex year of all times constitutes an excellent achievement that signals the stability and quality of the judoka from Netanya.
Incidentally, the two rivals defeated by Gerbi on the way to the finals, Tina Trstenjak and Miko Tashiro, demonstrated superiority in the consolation battles and each won a bronze medal – which hints at the level of rivals defeated by the Israeli, who is reinforcing her status as one of the greatest athletes Israel has ever had, and of course as a real hope for the Rio de Janeiro games two years from now.
On Thursday morning Gerbi began the campaign to defend her title. Due to her high ranking she was moved up to the second round, where she defeated Ana Cachola of Portugal (ranked 59 in the world) by an ippon. In the next round Gerbi, second in the world ranking, met Cuban Maylin Del Toro Carvajal (ranked 117). Against the Cuban she found it difficult to create a confining hold during the early stages, and even caused her rival three penalties (compared to two of her own), until at 36 seconds to the buzzer she threw Carvajal with a beautiful ippon and made it to the quarter finals. There the Israeli met Slovenian Tina Trstenjak, ranked eighth in the world and deputy European champion.
In the present season the worldwide union invalidated the “Gerbi choke,” with which she won the world title last year. In the absence of the choke, the Israeli knew that she had to find alternatives, and to date she has been creating lethal ippons. Trstenjak, the protegee of Urska Zolnir, caused a lot of problems for Gerbi and fellow Israeli judoka Alice Schlesinger in this weight category. But this time it took the reigning champion only 29 seconds to throw the Slovenian onto the mattress with an ippon.
In the semifinal Gerbi met the 20-year-old Japanese Miko Tashiro, who is ranked 12 worldwide and had also been impressive.
“We’re doing it today,” Hershko told Gerbi while marching to the mattress. The Japanese woman was able to achieve a wazari within 33 seconds, but Gerbi continued to seek an opening and the maneuver that would bring her to the final. “Deeper, she’s scared,” shouted Hershko to his protegee. About a minute before the end Tashiro tried to drag the Israeli to the floor in order to gain time, but forgot that she was competing against a judoka with excellent abilities in that area. In one motion Gerbi overturned her rival and carried out an excellent confining hold.
First the Japanese woman fought, but after 20 seconds the great move on the floor turned into an ippon that brought Gerbi to the final.
After the preliminary disqualification of Gili Cohen, Roni Schwartz and Camila Minakawa, Hershko, the trainer of the women’s team, finally had a representative in a final – but an Israeli gold medal remained illusive in this competition.