April 8, 2024
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Hundreds Flock to Airport to Welcome Israel’s Olympic Medalists

Olympic medalists Yarden Gerbi and Ori Sasson, who each won bronze medals in judo, were welcomed back from Rio de Janeiro at Ben-Gurion Airport by more than 1,000 Israelis eager to celebrate their achievements.

The pair of star athletes were accompanied by men’s judo coach Oren Smadja, himself an Olympic bronze medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, and women’s judo coach Shani Hershko.

“It feels amazing, it was all worth it,” Gerbi said, surrounded by fans at the airport. “There was a rumor that there would be a lot people here; we didn’t believe it would be this many. This is a great honor. It is nice that people appreciate what I do and my achievement. Thank you to everyone who came out.”

The excitement at the airport was reminiscent of similar celebrations when Smadja and judoka Yael Arad returned from the 1992 summer games in Barcelona as Israel’s first-ever Olympic medalists. This time, however, many in the crowd were asking for selfie photos with the athletes.

Drama Leading Up to the Medals

Gerbi, who many expected to return from the games with a medal, was defeated in the quarterfinals by Brazil’s Mariana Silva, in what some have called a controversial decision. Silva lost at a later round and did not win a medal.

Gerbi then won the bronze medal in a match against Japanese judoka Miku Tashiro, becoming the second-ever Israeli female athlete to win an Olympic medal.

Sasson’s path to the bronze was also dramatic, especially when he defeated Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby, to progress to the men’s over-100 kilogram quarterfinals. Shehaby refused to shake Sasson’s hand after the match, drawing boos from the crowd and stirring a debate about intolerance at the Rio Games.

Sasson, who was not anticipated to return to Israel as a medalist, beat Polish judoka Maciej Sarnacki in the qualifying round for the quarterfinals. He also defeated Roy Meyer of the Netherlands before losing to his French opponent, world champion Teddy Riner, in a semifinal match.

Riner later complimented Sasson as a fierce opponent and strong judoka.

Sasson ultimately went on to win the bronze medal in a consolation round against Cuban judoka Alex Garcia Mendoza.

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