One is nearing the end of his career, already has an Olympic medal and is eyeing another. The other is a decade younger, an up-and-comer who has enjoyed some success but is aiming for her first medal at the Games.
Ariel “Arik” Ze’evi, 35, and Alice Schlesinger, 24, are standouts on the Israeli Olympic judo team and two of their nation’s best medal hopes at the London Games that begin later this month.
Ze’evi won bronze eight years ago in Athens and expects to win a medal this year after faltering in Beijing in 2008.
Holding a camera while the Israeli media photographed him on Sunday, Ze’evi sounded like a soon-to-be retiree going on vacation. He talked about “enjoying the experience” and “staying calm.”
Beneath the relaxed air, however, was a determined and optimistic veteran. Ze’evi won the gold medal at the European Judo Championships in April, and as the 38-person Israeli Olympic delegation’s senior member, he has emerged as one of its leaders.
“I’m very calm, but there’s still time” before the Olympics, he said. “We don’t prepare for failure. We don’t set up scenarios where we don’t succeed. It’s better to have positive thoughts.”
Ze’evi says he is “sure” that these are his last Olympics. If he were to participate in Rio de Janiero four years from now, at age 39, he would “compete with little kids,” he said.
Another bronze-winning Israel judoka is heading to London: Oren Smadja is one of the five-person judo team’s coaches. Smadja, 42, believes that the medal he won in 1992 paved the way for more recent Israeli successes in judo, like Ze’evi’s bronze in Athens.
“[My] medal led to people practicing,” said Smadja, who acknowledged that he prefers competing to coaching. “I don’t remember a delegation this strong. Some of [this year’s] team didn’t think they could get into the Olympics. With my dedication and desire, I think I was” one of the impetuses for the team’s strong performance.