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Articles > Olympic Notebook, Part 7: Israel advances in Men’s Gymnastics, just misses out in Judo

Alex Shatilov, who emigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan in 2002, became the first Israeli in men’s (artistic) gymnastics to advance to the finals in single event Olympic competition, after finishing 8th in floor exercise. (Pavel Gofman made it to the finals in all-around competition in 2004). The 21-year-old Shatilov, who at nearly 6-foot-1 is the tallest of all the gymasts at the Olympics, started out strong in his first event, the vault, earning a relatively high score of 15.575. He next scored a 14.400 on the parallel bars. However, when he came to the high bar,he made a mistake, which even a solid finish couldn’t make up for, and his score of 14.225 took him down in the standings.

But he came back strong with his floor routine, his strongest element, earning a 15.600. This was the event in which he stood the best chance of advancing, having previously finished seventh and fifth, respetively, in the last two World Championships.

Shatilov struggled a bit on the pommel horse, and after a mistake early into his routine, stayed clear of any difficult moves, scoring a 13.825, and finished with a score of 14.075 on the rings.

His eight place finish in the floor routine just got him a spot in the finals, slipping an additional spot would have knocked him out of competition. His overall final of 87.800 put him in 25th place; finishing among the top 24 would have advanced him to the finals in overall competition.

Afterwards, he told reporters, “I’m pleased, but I think I got a lower score on the floor exercise than I deserved. I was hoping for a score of 15.800. I was angry about it, but now I’ve got a chance to show that I am better than everyone who finished ahead of me.”

If Shatilov is able to earn a medal in the finals, which are scheduled for Sunday August 17, he will be the first Israeli to medal in one of the sports considered to be the most prestigious at the Olympics, i.e., swimming, track and field, and gymnastics.

In other happenings, judoka Gal Yekutiel came close to medaling, and despite his deep disappointment in losing the bronze medal match to a Dutch competitor, Israeli papers were quick to sing his praises in the aftermath.

Yekutiel’s long day of competition paired him with several former medalists from Olympic, world or European competitions. First he got past Athens bronze medalist Tsagaanbaarar Hashbaatar (say that five times fast!) from Mongolia, and later a close win over Athens sliver medalist Nestor Khergiani from Georgia, and several matches later, a win over former world champion Craig Fallon from Britain put Yekutiel in contention for a medal. His Dutch opponent, Ruben Houkes, was bigger and taller, and dominated the match. Previously, Yekutiel defeated Houkes in European competition. As many times in the past however, once again Yekutiel came close to medaling but was unable to do so.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he told reporters later, unable to hide his frustration and fighting back the tears, “but the Dutch competitor was simply better than me in this battle. I’ve been through a tough day. It was very long and difficult and I claimed victories against some very good opponents and almost won a medal. I went for it and almost made it. It’s a pity that the day didn’t end the way I had hoped. Now I have to keep working to improve.”

Yekutiel, who previously competed in the 2004 Olympics, hopes also to take part four years from now in London. Arik Ze’evi, who finished fourth in the Sydney Olympics in 2004 in the 100 kg classification, and took the bronze medal in Athens, and 20-year-old Alice Shlesinger, have yet to compete. The veteran Ze’evi represents Israel’s best chance to medal, while Shlesinger will mostly garner experience for the 2012 Games.

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