Arad, Yael

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ARAD, YAEL (1967– ) Israeli judoist, first Israeli to win an Olympic medal. Arad was born in Tel Aviv and began studying judo at the age of eight. At 16 she was the runner-up in the 56-kg class in the German Open for Cadets. Because judo was an underdeveloped and underfinanced sport in Israel, Arad went to Europe and Japan for training, steadily improving before placing second in the German Open in 1988, and third at the European Championships the following year. In 1990, Arad defeated the world no. 1 and no. 2 judoists before losing in the finals, winning the silver medal at a tournament in Germany. She finished second at the 1993 World and European Championships, and placed fifth at the 1995 World Championships. By the 1996 Olympics, Arad had competed in 49 international competitions, winning 24 medals: seven gold, eight silver, and nine bronze, and had been Israeli champion 16 times. But it was her silver medal at Barcelona in 1992 that elevated Arad to a place in Israeli history beyond the world of sports. After 40 years of Olympic competition Israel had finally won a medal, placing Israel on the map of international athletic achievements and uniting the country in a sporting event in a way not seen since the 1977 European basketball championship. Wanting to overcome what she called Israel's "mental barrier" against winning a medal, she took the silver in the half-middleweight class (61-kg) and promptly dedicated it to the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. Arad competed again at the 1996 Atlanta Games, but she suffered from a viral infection and lost in the bronze medal round and placed fifth. Arad was elected to the Israeli Olympic Committee in 1997 and was a judo coach for Israel at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]