Born: May 1, 1967
Discipline: Judo (-61kg)
Association: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Coach: Danny Leopold
There is a saying that you never forget the first time. That’s why no one will ever forget the name Yael Arad.
After over 2,000 years of waiting, Arad won Israel’s first ever medal and it occurred at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
The color – Silver. The discipline – Judo.
Yael Arad was born in May of 1967 in the city of Tel Aviv. As an 8 year old, her talent was evident at first sight and she had to train with boys since there were no girls for her to practice with. In most cases when Israeli parents register their children for an after school Judo class, the child eventually moves on, but after receiving a yellow belt, Arad continued to persevere.
In 1984, when Arad was 17, she was ranked 7th in the world amongst female Judokas and five years later in 1989 she won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Helsinki, reaching her first significant international achievement. The bronze medal marked the first medal that any Israeli Judoka had won at the European Championships. Two years later in 1991, Arad’s made her biggest breakthrough on the international scene when she placed 3rd at the World Championships, just one year before the Olympic Games.
In February of 1992, Arad won the gold medal at the prestigious Paris tournament and was ranked first in the world when she arrived at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Finally in July of that same year, after 25 Modern Era Olympic Games, 40 years since Israel began to participate in the Olympics and 20 years after the Munich tragedy, a miracle occurred as the road to Israel’s historic medal began in the preliminary rounds. Arad, who was competing in the -61kg category started on her way by defeating Gomez of Spain and Januchkova of Czechoslovakia and entered the final round with the winner going on to compete in the Olympic Final and guaranteed an Olympic medal. Matched up against World champion Frauke Eickhoff of Germany, Arad won in dramatic fashion and went on to battle for the gold, already assured that she would bring home an Olympic Medal for Israel.
The whole country was excitedly behind Arad and the entire Olympic delegation was encouraging her as tears of joy poured out of the crowd’s eyes as she stepped up for her final match on July 30, 1992 against Catherine Fleury from France. At the end of the battle, they were tied on points and the judge’s decisions were split. However, the final word came from Chinese judge Li Wong who declared Fleury the winner as Israel collected their first ever medal, a silver.
Immediately following the medal ceremony, Arad descended from the podium and declared at the post match press conference that the historic medal was in memory of the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes who were murdered in Munich and to their families. “Today, we proved that the abominable murder did not succeed in eradicating Israeli sports, we are continuing,” she said at the time.
When Arad arrived back in Israel, the Olympic medalist was met with respect, compassion and love, warmth and great appreciation by the general public. Thousands waited for her at the airport and in one instant, Arad became public figure and a household name around the country.
In May 1993, Yael was crowned European champion and in October of that same year, she won the silver medal in the World Championships. Four years later, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Yael Arad finished in fifth place after four wins, losing in the bronze medal match to a Korean competitor. All in all it was a successful Olympic Games as she had mononucleosis throughout the competition which made it difficult for her to be at her peak. Arad retired from competitive sports immediately following the Atlanta games at the age of 2, closing out a 21-year career.
Arad served in the IDF as a combat fitness instructor and holds a BA in Business Administration, specializing in entrepreneurship, business development and marketing strategies. She also represents internationally renowned successful TV shows for children and youth while also lecturing to organizations and security services about the connection of excellence in sports and the business world.
In 2013, Arad joined the Olympic Committee of Israel with the goal of putting human relations at the forefront of athletes, coaches and sports management. She currently heads the professional committee of the Olympic Committee, a member of the National Council for Sport. As of 2012, Arad also serves as a member of the marketing committee of the IOC. Arad volunteers in all of her sports positions.
Outstanding Career Results:
Silver Medal, Hamilton – 1993
Bronze Medal, Barcelona – 1991
Gold Medal, Athens – 1993
Bronze Medal, Helsinki – 1989
Bronze Medal, Prague, 1991
Over the course of her career, Arad has won 24 medals at A level Tournaments, including 7 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 9 bronze medals.
Yael Arad’s official website: www.yaelarad.co.il