Though now considered one of the greatest Israeli athletes of all time, Arik Zeevi did not have a promising start. Growing up in one of Israel’s developing neighbourhoods, he had few resources and even less opportunity. However, his older brother encouraged him to learn judo and, at the age of seven, he was hooked. With no professional training facilities in the area, Arik practiced diligently at the local youth shelter until he won the national judo championship when he was just 15 years old—the youngest winner in Israel’s history.
Arik’s judo career was long and successful. He won bronze at the 2004 Olympics, a silver medal at the World Championships, gold four times at the European Championships and silver at one. He was the oldest judoku to win a European Championship as well as the first Israeli athlete to compete in four Olympic games. His 12-year career at such an elite level demanded intense focus, sacrifice and determination, and he attributes his success in part to the personal growth that comes through taking risks.
Since retiring from competitive judo in 2012, Arik has channelled his passion for sport and for supporting underprivileged youth into his not-for-profit organization, The Israeli Foundation for Olympic Excellence (IFOE). IFOE helps top coaches scout and train talented Israeli youth, especially in Israel’s periphery. Their goal is to boost Israeli Olympic performance by offering all Israeli youth a true opportunity for Olympic excellence.
His Olympic Excellence Program is helping youth reach their full potential in our partnership region in the Upper Galilee Panhandle, an area of Israel challenged by a lack of jobs, infrastructure and security. Young people receive training in athletics as well as in life, learning skills like setting goals, coping with stress and recovering from failure. Arik’s own experience as a young Israeli on the margins fuels his passion to see the power of sport develop youth and communities for the long term.
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