Yarden Gerbi has won Israel’s first medal of the Olympic Games after defeating Japan’s Miku Tashiro in the women’s 63kg event.
Winning only Israel’s eighth ever medal in the Games, she said: “The medal is for all of Israel, for everyone who supported me and cheered me on. I’m waiting for someone to wake me up. I gave my soul and it paid off. Whoever said you can’t succeed in Israel, is wrong.”
Yarden Gerbi became the first Israeli woman to win an Olympic medal in 24 years – and dedicated her win to “everyone in Israel”.
Beating Japan’s Miku Tashiro to win bronze in the 63kg judo event – and claim what is only Israel’s eighth ever Olympic medal, she said: “Someone wake me up, I can’t believe it. This is a dream come true. It was really hard, but I had all the support I needed from my family. I dedicate this medal to everyone in Israel. I gave my life to judo and it paid off. Whoever said you can’t succeed in Israel, is wrong.”
The 27-year-old’s win was met with jubilant scenes back in Israel, and she received a congratulatory phone call from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. He told here “All the people here in Israel are excited together with you. We all held our breath and prayed for your success but at the end of the day the one who did it was you, you are simply our champion. Well done. Today you are our heroine.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tweeted: “Yarden, you did it! We are all proud of you”, while Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who met Gerbi minutes after she won the medal told her, “Yarden, you’re awesome! You fought like a lioness and we’re very proud of you. You made us all proud and thanks to you the Israeli flag will fly over the podium.”
Watching from home were her parents, who told reporters they were “beyond excited.” He father Shmuel said: “Back in 1992, we were watching the Olympics and Yarden asked, ‘how do you get to the Olympics?’ She was only 3 years old. Now she did it.” Her mother, Nurit, added: “This was her dream and now it came true. We want to thank her amazing coach, the Olympic Committee, and all the sponsored who helped her and believed in her. Now I can’t wait for her to get back home.”
Set to also receive a £50,000 grant from the Israeli Olympic Committee for her win, half of which will go to her coach, Shani Hershko, Israeli Olympic Committee Director Gili Lustig said Tuesday was an “historic day for Israeli sports”, while Israel Judo Association Chairman Moshe Fonti said, “We always believed in Yarden. She’s a world champion and now an Olympic champion.”
Fully deserving of her win, she got off to a great start, throwing both a Waza-ari and Yuko. Holding a commanding lead, the only threat to her holding onto her focus was when she saw her coach sent away from the match midway through the contest.
With Tashiro needing an Ippon to win the match, Gerbi was tested on several occasions, though held on strongly to claim a famous win for Israel – and the eight in the country’s history.
Gerbi had earlier in the day seen her hopes of winning gold ended in heartbreaking style on Tuesday afternoon, though the Israeli Judo Federation accused the referee of siding with her opponent, home favourite Mariana Silver.