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'I'm so happy,' says athlete who overcame COVID curveball

Israel’s Gefen Primo wins bronze at World Judo Championships

21-year-old beats Uzbek opponent in under-52 kg category to become 1st Israeli woman on tournament’s podium since Yarden Gerbi in 2014; still, she will miss Olympics

Israel's Gefen Primo reacts after her fight against Uzbekistan's Diyora Keldiyorova, in the bronze medal match of the women's under-52kg category during the 2021 Judo World Championships at 'Papp Laszlo' Arena in Budapest, Hungary, on June 7, 2021. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Israel's Gefen Primo reacts after her fight against Uzbekistan's Diyora Keldiyorova, in the bronze medal match of the women's under-52kg category during the 2021 Judo World Championships at 'Papp Laszlo' Arena in Budapest, Hungary, on June 7, 2021. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

Israeli judoka Gefen Primo won a medal in the World Championships on Monday for the first time in her career, taking home the bronze in Budapest, Hungary.

Primo became the first Israeli woman on the podium since Yarden Gerbi’s silver in 2014. It is the Jewish state’s 11th medal overall in world championships.

The 21-year-old nevertheless will not represent Israel in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, after she lost the battle for the country’s sole ticket in the under-52kg category to Gili Cohen.

While Cohen lost her first match Monday, Primo beat opponents from Mexico and Brazil to reach the quarterfinal, where she lost to Switzerland’s Fabienne Kocher, who also ended up snagging a bronze medal.

In the repechage, Primo beat Mongolia’s Lkhagvasürengiin Sosorbaram and then prevailed over Diyora Keldiyorova of Uzbekistan to win the medal.

In April, Primo took bronze in the European Championships.

Israel’s Gefen Primo (white) fights against Uzbekistan’s Diyora Keldiyorova (blue) in the bronze medal match of the women’s under-52kg category during the 2021 Judo World Championships at ‘Papp Laszlo’ Arena in Budapest, Hungary, on June 7, 2021. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

“I’m so happy,” Primo said after the match. “This medal comes a short while after the medal in the European Championships and after a year that I still can’t describe. I have learned to accept both the challenges and the joy, and today is my time to be happy.”

Primo’s coach, Shani Hershko, highlighted the fact that the athlete’s biggest achievement yet comes after she contracted COVID-19, “a disease that seriously hurt her physical abilities.”

“Gefen managed to overcome the tough episode… and this proves her immense mental strength and amazing future awaiting her. Gefen achieves breakthrough after breakthrough and I am very proud of her,” Hershko said.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper called Primo and said: “You are such a champion. We are very proud of you, everyone here in Israel loves and appreciates you.”

In the men’s under-66kg category, Tal Flicker lost in the third round to Japan’s reigning world champion Joshiro Maruyama.

In March, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported that Israel had been given the choice to host the World Judo Championships in 2024 or 2025. The country’s judo association was reportedly given the option to accommodate the contest either prior to the 2024 Paris Olympics or in the following year, with all of the winners from the Summer Games.

The offer came following a number of successful judo tournaments held in Israel, the most recent one in February, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 600 athletes from all over the world arrived to participate in the February contest, despite the virus restrictions at the time. The event ran smoothly, with no infections reported as a result of it.

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

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