Arik Ze'evi, who took up judo because his two older brothers competed in the sport, has become Israel's top performer in the sport over the past few years; at the 2001 World Championships, he won the silver medal in the open competition.
His earliest success came at the 1995 European Junior Championships, when he won in the 86-kg class; he then finished seventh in the 95-kg class at the 1997 World Championships. In 1999, Ze'evi placed fifth in the 100-kg class at the World Championships; he reached the final five, but withdrew due to an injury. He subsequently won the bronze medal at the European Championship. At the 2000 European Championships, Ze'evi lost in the first round to Igor Makarov of Bulgaria.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Arik Ze'evi was a member of the Israeli judo team and competed in the half-heavyweight (100-kg) class. He reached the semifinals, but did not medal after losing to France's Stephane Traineau in the bronze medal match. Controversy surrounded the decision as Ze'evi controlled most of the match, but was pinned long enough by Traineau to score an ippon, the equivalent of a knockout. The ippon may have occured out of bounds, however, and after Traineau was awarded the point, the judges reconsidered their decision and ruled it no good. Finally, the judges reverted to their original call and Ze'evi was ruled out. He officially finished in fifth place.
In May 2001, Ze'evi had his greatest success to date, winning the European Championship in the heavyweight division and becoming the first-ever Israeli to win a gold medal at the Championships. At the World Championships in late July, 2001, Ze'evi lost in the second round of the heavyweight class to 2000 Olympic silver medalist Nicolas Gill of Canada. Despite this disappointment, he managed to reach the final of the open competition, and finished in second place to capture the silver medal.
On May 16, 2004, Ze'evi won his third European Championship title in Bucharest. After an automatic bye in the first round, Arik faced Ivori Yakorieli of Georgia and dispensed of him within a minute and thirteen seconds. He beat his nemesis Jocelyn Lamerre in the semi-final in a hotly contested match. In the final, the European champion easily defeated Antal Kovac for his second straight title and his third in four years. With this victory he became the first Israeli athlete to win three European titles in any sport.
Ze'evi entered the Athens 2004 Olympics as the top medal prospect on Israel's Olympic judo team. In his first bout in the 2004 Athens Games, Ze'evi was drawn against Mario Sabino of Brazil. The Brazilian was very sharp in the opening stages of the round of 32 confrontation and the two were in a deadlock. After 2:20 Arik was awarded a Koka but a minute later the Brazilian won a Yuko. From that moment on the Israeli went on a rampage winning a Waza-ari and outmaneuvering his opponent to such an extent that he was penalized for lack of aggression and disqualified with eight seconds to go. Ze'evi opened poorly against his round of 16 opponent, Michele Monti (Italy). Monti was ahead by a Waza-ari within 54 seconds and forced the Israeli onto the defensive. There followed an indecisive three minute interlude before Arik slammed his hapless opponent for an Ippon. The Israeli judoka lost the quarterfinal to South Korean Sung Ho Jang despite a good performance. Ze'evi was ahead by a Waza-ari when blood began pouring off a cut in his nose. The Korean won an impressive Ippon with 0:54 on the clock.
Arik was forced to seek his fortune in the repechage (consolation round) and opened with an impressive victory over Franck Martial Moussima of Cameroon. He advanced to the repechage final, where he needed a victory in order to compete for the bronze medal. He faced Frenchman Ghislain Lemaire (ranked second in the world), and breezed past him. Arik won a Koka after 2:44 and an Ippon with 2:11 on the clock as he paralyzed his rival completely for 25 seconds. The Israeli faced a tired looking Elco van Der Geest in the bronze medal contest. Ze'evi won an Ippon after four minutes and nine seconds of a careful tactical bout and took the bronze. It was Israel's first medal in the 2004 Olympics.
Sources: Jews In Sports; Image licensed under Wikipedia Commons