Israeli Judoka Tommy Arshansky Wouldn't Take No for an Answer

For Arshansky, who moved to Israel as an infant, reaching the Olympics is the fulfillment of a dream, for which he gives thanks every day.

Between earning thousands of supportive messages on social networks and demonstrating in front of the Olympic Committee of Israel's offices, Tommy Arshansky's fight for a ticket to the London Games apparently outshined that of Guy Matzkin. After all, Matzkin, the archer, will be staying home this summer while Arshansky, the judoka, is London-bound.

"They called me from the Olympic Committee and later from the judo association," recalls Arshansky about the happy moment. "I didn't yell or anything, but inside I felt great. I believed the entire time that in the end they would get me onto the team."

It happened last Friday, when the Olympic Committee's highest tribunal accepted his petition. Although he was not among the top 20 in the world, the tribunal took into account that problems in the judo association prevented him from participating in a sufficient number of tournaments, as well as his impressive results.

"It was a real roller coaster ride," says Arshansky. "One day they would tell me, 'It's close, we think you'll go.' And the next day it would be, 'Listen, perhaps in the end you won't go.' There was a moment when they really told me no, but I had a feeling I'd fly. From my angle, there was no scenario in which I would not be in London. I really believed it."

Arshansky, 20, says that all the back-and-forth reports never stopped him, and he kept believing as strongly as he could that things would work out.

For Arshansky, who moved to Israel as an infant, reaching the Olympics is the fulfillment of a dream, for which he gives thanks every day.

Martial arts are hardly foreign to his family. His father Pavel - his coach from an early age - was a wrestler. Tommy has enjoyed much success under his father's tutelage, such as winning the World Junior Championships, second place at the Youth Olympics and recently a silver medal at the World Cup in Tblisi, Georgia.

"I'm happy I had the privilege to be trained by my father," says Arshansky. "I got a little more attention, among other things, because I am his son, but we got along well - especially because I was able to make a separation."

Arshansky says his father also helped him not to give up in practices when the going got tough. "I think that when he was informed that I am flying to London, he felt as if he were also at the Olympics," he says.

The rate of practice sessions under his father has slowed recently because of intensive training at Wingate. Everything is now being channeled toward London, where he will be the 300th athlete to represent Israel at the Games.

"When an athlete steps on the mat at age 10, the first thing he thinks about is the Olympic Games. It's the pinnacle, it's our World Cup," says Arshansky. "The thought that perhaps I would be there one day kept me going all these years; during the hard times, too. I felt that they almost denied me my dream, but through the support of Oren Smadja, the association and my family, I have the opportunity to fulfill my dream.

Arshansky believes that Smadja, the national team coach, has instigated a real revolution in the sport. He says Smadja fought in recent years against financial limitations.

"Since Oren took the job, everything changed. The food, the way we were treated and the lodgings all improved," Arshansky says. "We get much better conditions, and it allows us to perform much better. I don't think there is anyone who believed that we would have five judokas in London."

Smadja believes in the athletes and they respond in kind, according to Arshansky. "Everyone gets along with and loves him," he says. "Now it's my duty to make the switch. That's it, I'm in the Olympics and I need to focus on the goal: getting past the first fight - and more than anything else, simply representing Israel with honor. It's super-important for me."

Arshansky, it would seem, is on Cloud Nine. It's hard to think how close the strict Israeli Olympic criterion nearly knocked him down, as it did to Matzkin, as it could do to others in the future.

"I prefer not to get mixed up with the Olympic committee [decision], but I think the international criterion is hard enough," he says. "It's doable and preferable to rely on it. They didn't make it for nothing. They should cancel the Israeli criterion for the next Olympics."

AP
Olympic Committee of Israel