At London, Arik Ze’evi will become the first Israeli athlete to participate at four Olympic Games. For an athlete in particular one in a combat sport to remain at the highest level for 12 years requires an inordinate amount of skill, talent, sacrifice, determination, luck, and mental discipline.
A four time European champion, Ze’evi finest hour came in Athens when he won bronze at the 2004 Olympic Games. A ferocious competitor on the mat, he is a gentle giant off it and it was our pleasure to be able to speak to him.
When did you start in your sport? I started judo when I was seven at the Community Center in Pardes Katz, a rough neighborhood outside of Bnai Brak
How did your commitment to sports change your childhood?
I was committed to the Judo from a very young age, I had to forgo many school trips during the year due to competitions, and training and I didn’t have time to have a summer job during the school break.
What is your first memory of the Olympics?
My first Olympic memory is from Sydney. My first Olympic Games. When we landed at the airport, there was a special exit area for the athletes, and people were there to cheer us on, it was amazing. Then, when I arrived to the Olympic Village for the first time, I suddenly understood the magnitude of the event, the importance, and the huge investment made for the athletes from around the world.
When did you know you wanted to be in the Olympics?
When I saw Yael and Oren win their medals in Judo in 1992, I knew I wanted in!
Who are your role models?
I don’t have one role model in particular. I try to take something from any, and all of the great athletes I see, who have something that is worth imitating.
What does it mean to be Israel’s first four time Olympian? Amazing. Just to think that I am a member of this very small unique group of international athletes is overwhelming.
How hard was it to combine high-level sport and your studies and work?
With my training and competition schedule, it wasn’t easy, but I did it. I finished a double degree in Law and Business Administration. It took me six years instead of four, but with the help and understanding of the IDC, it was possible.
What was your biggest challenge prior to getting to the Olympics?
Winning second place in the open weight division was my greatest achievement.
Besides judo, what Olympic sports do you like to watch?
Unfortunately, I don’t watch a lot of sports, (time) but when I do, I enjoy watching track and field. And of course, any event that Israel is competing.
Sport has given you many opportunities and experiences that otherwise you would never had had – what would you say to Israeli children about sport and what it can offer them? Any advice?
I think the sport has given me a lot. In particular, the ability to deal with all kinds of difficulties, setbacks, stress, etc. I encourage all children to get involved in sports; it will help strengthen their ability to cope with adversity as kids and in their future.
How has being an Olympian changed your life?
Winning an Olympic Medal made me famous. Yes, it opened doors for me, but beyond the open doors there were no promises … I have to prove myself.
What do you want to do post-judo?
I still don’t know what I will do once I go into retirement. In the meantime, I will continue lecturing and assisting businesses on the connection between sports and business.
Arik, we will be cheering you on! Wish you all the best in your 4th Olympic Games…. Go for the Gold!