Israeli judoka Timna Nelson Levy wins gold medal at Tel Aviv Grand Slam

Following the controversy surrounding Israel holding an international judo tournament amid the pandemic came the competition itself, and the home team judokas quickly triumphed on Thursday with Timna Nelson Levy winning a gold medal while Gili Cohen took a silver.

On the first day of the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, Nelson Levy took on French judoka Sarah-Léonie Cysique in the finals in the under-57 kilogram weight class, defeating her within 18 seconds, according to Channel 12 news.

Nelson Levy’s journey to the final began with her beating Turkish rival Ozlem Yildiz, then in the quarter-final she defeated Slovenia’s Kaja Kajzer, and in the semi-final knocked out Eteri Liparteliani from Georgia.

“It’s fun to win here in the country, it’s just too bad there isn’t a crowd, because our crowd is the best in the world,” Nelson Levy said after winning gold, thanking the Israel Judo Association for “managing to hold one hell of an event” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Cohen also managed to reach the finals in the under-52 kilogram weight class but was beaten by Brit Chelsie Giles.

Disappointed by her loss in the final, Cohen referred to the upcoming Olympics, saying “it has been a difficult and challenging year. I will do my best to bring a medal from Tokyo as well.”

Britain’s Chelsie Giles (white) competes against Israeli’s Gili Cohen during the final of the women’s under 52 kg category of Tel Aviv Grand Slam 2021 in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 18, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Iranian dissident Saeid Mollaei, who fled his home country after being forced to lose a match on purpose to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in 2019, will compete Friday in the second round of the under-81 kilogram weight class.

Now representing Mongolia, he arrived in the country Sunday night and said he was “very happy” to be in Israel.

Israeli world champion judoka Sagi Muki, right, and Iranian champion Saeid Mollaei embrace at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020, in an Instagram photo posted online by Muki. (Instagram screen capture)

Some 600 athletes from all over the world arrived in Israel to participate in the contest. The seemingly rule-bending event sparked controversy among health officials as well as among travelers angered by the airport closure for nearly all other cases.

After undergoing COVID-19 tests, competitors who test negative are to remain in closed pods and stay isolated during the entire event.

A top doctor on the frontline of the Jewish state’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic on Monday slammed the Tel Aviv event as an unnecessary risk that could bring new mutations of COVID-19 into the country.

“I am really against it. I think it is a mistake,” Dror Mevorach, head of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital’s coronavirus department, told Radio 103FM.

Earlier on Monday, Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper defended the event, saying there was always a need to balance public health with the economy.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper at the Knesset on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The judo contest will provide employment for thousands of Israelis, he noted. He insisted competitors would be placed under tight restrictions to prevent a virus outbreak.

“I think we found the proper balance,” said Tropper.

Judo is one of Israel’s strongest sports, with Israeli judokas taking home five of the nine Olympic medals won by the country.


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