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Israeli teen with autism takes gold medal in judo at the Special Olympics

Nir Abelson was drawn to the sport as a result of being bullied by his classmates

Nir Abelson (Photo: Yair Abelson/Facebook)

An Israeli teen, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, won the gold medal last week at the Special Olympic Games in a judo competition.

Nir Abelson, 12, said he owes the victory to the cruel classmates who used to bully him and pushed him to the edge.

After winning a national judo contest several weeks prior, Abelson revealed that his flair for the sport was the result of being bullied by his classmates.

"I wanted to defend myself. It started as half hobby, half self-defense against kids that would vex me. I started to love it and train, and it turned from a hobby to a way of life," he told the Israeli news website YNET. 

Abelson, who lives in Beersheva, won first place in the international competition, which hosted over 400 athletes from 11 countries.

"I'm proud to represent the country and bring such great victories," he said. "I thank everyone who has been with me along the way that have helped me turn what was for me a dream - into reality." 

The Israeli judo team at the Games included three more young athletes. Their coach, Avi Agar, said he was proud to manage such talented judokas.

"I came with a group of four young and talented athletes that train non-stop, Agar said. "They represented Israel with honor." 

All four of Agar's judo trainees won gold and bronze metals. Among them, 14-year-old Shilo Omer, who won a total of three metals – one gold and two bronze. 

In recent years, Israel has become a powerhouse in judo, achieving great accomplishments in international competitions. Six of Israel’s Olympic medals are in Judo, with the latest bronze won by the Israeli judo Olympic delegation at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. 

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Israel won two bronzes in judo thanks to former world champions Yarden Gerbi and Judoka Ori Sasson. Two years later, in 2018, the European Championships were held in Tel Aviv.

Arik Zeevi won the bronze at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Judokas Yael Arad and Oren Smadja won silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. 

Read more: SPORTS

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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