July 30, 1992
Yael Arad at age 25 becomes the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal, taking the silver in judo in the half-middleweight (61-kilogram) class at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona. She dedicates her medal to the 11 Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.
Born in Tel Aviv, Arad began taking judo classes at age 8 and within a year was ranked at the top of her weight class. She won her first international title in 1984 at age 17 and that year finished seventh at the world championships in Vienna.
At the Barcelona Olympics, she loses to France’s Catherine Fleury on a judge’s decision in the championship match. “That day I changed from a person who wanted to a person who could,” Arad later writes. The next year, she takes the silver at the world championships and the gold at the European championships. She falls short of matching her Olympic success at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, at least partly because she falls ill with a virus during the competition.
After retiring, Arad coaches the Israeli judo team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She serves as a TV commentator for judo matches.
Arad’s international success inspires other Israeli judokas and female athletes. Through the 2016 Olympics, five of Israel’s nine medals have come in judo, including two at the 2016 Rio Olympics: Yarden Gerbi in the women’s half-middleweight (Israel’s second medal for a woman) and Or Sasson in the men’s heavyweight. No other Israeli has won an Olympic silver, and only one, Gal Fridman in men’s sailboarding in 2004, has earned a gold medal.