Kobi Ifrach, 20, from Zichron Yaakov was declared Mr. Universe on Sunday in the under-22 junior division, in an international tournament held in Birmingham, England.
The bodybuilding event has been organized annually for 67 years by the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association (NABBA).
“It is an amazing feeling to wrap myself in the Israeli flag,” an excited Ifrach told the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Aharonoth after his win. “I came from such a small country and became the center of attention. This is unprecedented!”
Ifrach is the first Israeli to win the NABBA junior title since it was introduced in 1988.
Over the years, the all-around Mr. Universe title has been won by famous bodybuilders such as movie star and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who prevailed in four consecutive years 1967-1970.
“I have been training 24 hours a day for many years,” said Ifrach. “Training means following a tight schedule — eating every hour and a half and not drinking water at all on some days.”
Speaking about the tense moments on stage before he was declared the winner, he said he was “thinking of all these difficulties and of the hard work I had invested in the preparations.
“I had no time for a social life during the preparation,” Ifrach told Yedioth. “After the tournament we all went to eat hamburgers and it was insane. Breakfast at the hotel was very exciting.”
Ifrach said he got into bodybuilding thanks to his older brothers, who were amateur bodybuilders. He won many tournaments in Israel over the years, and is planning to compete next year under the tutelage of his coach, Dani Kaganovich, also a young bodybuilder who has won several international tournaments himself.
“The first rule of bodybuilding is to get along with everyone,” said Ifrach, asked for his secret in dealing with the stressful and ascetic lifestyle demanded by his profession.
“I just decided to behave nicely to everyone, no matter the circumstances. My personal choices should not cause my family and girlfriend to suffer. I learned how to sit and calm down, even when I’m stressed.”
The Mr. Universe cup was presented to Ifrach on Sunday by Yoni Hanna, president of NABBA in Israel and a former winner of Mr. Universe in the “Tall” category.
He is the brother of legendary Israeli bodybuilder Eli Hanna, who won the Mr. Universe title three times in the “Tall” category but was never able to finish first in the overall contest. He held the Israeli Mr. Universe title for 10 consecutive years, until his brother took it from him in 2013.