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In first, Israeli judoka wins gold at European Championships

Raz Hershko competes against Juria Tolfua of France in the Women's +78kg Gold medal match during 2024 Judo European Championships, April 27, 2024 in Zagreb, Croatia. (Photo: Sanjin Strukic/PIXSELL/Sipa USA)

Raz Hershko made history on Saturday by being the first judoka to bring a gold medal home to Israel.  

She was competing at the European Judo Championships, in the Seniors Individuals finals, held in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

“I am very happy to have won the title. It’s another step towards the Olympic Games,” Hershko (24) said after her historic victory.

It was also the first European championship for the winner. Hershko, competing in the over 78 kg (172 lb) category, had narrowly missed gold in the past two years by losing in the final round.

This year, however, the margins favored the Israeli judoka, who succeeded in defeating her French opponent, Julia Tolofua, in the final round.

Hershko’s European gold medal comes after a year of strong performances. In February 2023, she won the gold medal in the international judo competition in Tel Aviv, after defeating her Turkish opponent, Kayra Sayit.

In July 2023, Hershko became the first Israeli to be ranked in the top slot in the world among female athletes in her weight class, in the official International Judo Federation ranking.

Hershko’s gold was the fourth Israeli medal in the European championship. Israeli judokas Inbar Lanir, Tamar Malca and Timna Nelson Levy, all succeeded in winning bronze medals in their respective categories.

While satisfied with her bronze medal, Lanir stressed that she had even higher ambitions for the upcoming Olympics in Paris in July.

“I am going to further work on my weak points in preparation for the Olympics,” she said. “I feel a great responsibility and a great pride in wearing the colors of my country.”

In May 2023, Lanir won gold in the World Judo Championships in the Qatari capital, Doha.

“I’m happy to dedicate my medal to the residents of the south who are going through a difficult period, to IDF soldiers and to all the State of Israel,” Lanir said, at the time.

“It was so important for me to do something good during such complex and difficult days, and I’m happy and satisfied that I succeeded.”

Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Miki Zohar welcomed the good news, almost one year ago.

“All the people of Israel are proud of her win,” he said at the time. “Especially at this moment, she brought all of us satisfaction and happiness.”

Over the years, Israel has achieved notable international success in judo. In 1992, Israeli judoka Yael Arad made history by winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, securing the first Olympic medal in the history of the modern State of Israel.

Judo has served as an unconventional bridge of friendship between Israel and Iranians.

In 2019, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei defied orders from his coaches to avoid competing against Israeli judoka Sagi Muki. In 2021, after defecting from Iran and competing for Mongolia, Mollaei dedicated the silver medal he won at the Tokyo Olympics to the Israeli people.

“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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