Gefen Primo is a rising star from Israel. Last year, she won her first Grand Prix gold medal and had been selected to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, before it was postponed. Currently under lock-down, she is using the time at home to do training with her younger sister who is also a judoka. Oon Yeoh of Judocrazy asked her about her own well-being.
JIC: Last year you won your first IJF World Tour gold medal at the Montreal Grand Prix at the age of 19, making you the youngest Israeli judoka to win an IJF gold medal. Any big celebrations?
GP: Since it was my first gold medal in the IJF World Tour, I was really happy to be able to finally do it. Despite the joy at this achievement, I was already thinking about my next goal so I didn't celebrate in any special way.
JIC: What did your parents say when you told them about this success?
GP: I always talk to my parents right after my competitions. They knew how much I wanted to win a gold medal already. So, when I called them, they were naturally very proud and happy for me, but they also know me very well and knew I was already thinking of greater things for the future.
JIC: I know it’s still not clear when the IJF Tour will resume but do you have another event this year that you are targeting?
GP: At the moment, the situation is constantly changing and nobody knows for sure what will happen. But I'm already preparing for the day after the virus situation has died down. I’m doing everything I can so that once it’s over, I’ll be ready.
JIC: You have a tough domestic rival in Gili Cohen. What is your relationship like with her?
GP: We’ve spent a lot of time together, away from home, so we are quite close and there’s a lot of trust between us. We trained together during her preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She is nine years older than me, and I’ve learned a lot from training with her. Today, it can be said that we are rivals but I view this positively. The competition between us makes the both of us better fighters.
JIC: Is that feeling of camaraderie common in the national team?
GP: Yes, the environment is pretty special. Cadets, juniors, seniors — we all train together at the national training centre called Wingate Institute. All our trainings are there except for one day a week when players go back to their home clubs. All that time spent together has made us a very cohesive team. Yes, there is rivalry on the mat but we also support and encourage each other all the time. It sounds cliché to say this but we are one big family. With us, it really is the case.
JIC: You had already qualified for the Olympics but were you already selected to be the Israeli representative for the Games?
GP: After Dusseldorf, based on the rankings, I was the one chosen to be the -52kg representative. But now that the Olympics have been postponed for a year, I’m not sure whether or how that is going to affect the selection. I have to be ready for any outcome.
JIC: What was a typical training day like for you before the lock-down?
GP: My training program is normally pretty intense. I start the day with judo or weight training. Immediately after that, I go for physiotherapy. Before I go back home for lunch and a short rest, I will go to the army. Around 3pm I head back to Wingate for another judo training, usually it will be a randori or a technical session.
JIC: Besides your training at Wingate do you also go back to your home club?
GP: Shany Hershko, who is the head coach of the national women’s team also happens to be my personal coach. So, all my trainings take place at the national training centre.
JIC: You have a younger sister who also does judo. Is she already in the national team?
GP: My sister Kerem will be 15 years old this month and she is competing as a cadet in the -57kg weight category. She is attached to the Wingate Academy where all the young girls live together. Kerem also joins the senior judo training session and she is usually my training partner.
JIC: What do your parents think about both their daughters doing judo?
GP: Our parents are our biggest supporters. They believe in us and encourage us to strive to be the best in the world. I also have a brother, Einav, who is much bigger than Kerem and me, around 81kg — he is also a judoka and a competitor. As you can imagine, most of our family conversations are about judo!
JIC: What type of training do you do at home?
GP: Before going into quarantine, all the players took back some tatami and the necessary fitness equipment from our centre so we can do some work-out at home. Fortunately, Kerem is with me so we are able to do some training together.
JIC: How old were you when you first decided you wanted to be an international competitor?
GP: I was four years old when I started judo and I liked it straight away. I'm a competitive person by nature so I’m always motivated to be the best in whatever I do. This is what drove me to want to compete even at a very young age. I took part in every competition there was, I fought against girls and boys alike. And as I grew older, I continued to set new goals for myself so there wasn’t any distinct point when I decided to compete internationally. It was just a natural progression.
JIC: Do you find the sacrifices needed to be a top athlete to be difficult to cope with?
GP: I think once you’ve set a priority for yourself, things become clear and simple. For me judo is my top priority so I don’t consider the things I give up to be sacrifices.
JIC: Do you have time for other interests?
GP: Right now, I’m also a soldier in the Israeli army, so between that and my judo training, I really don’t have much free time. Whenever I can, I like to cook and read books.
JIC: But as a young person, don’t you sometimes wish you had more time to socialize and do the things young people normally do?
GP: I’m grateful for being able to do what I love every day. In terms of going out and socializing, I’m not a person who likes to go out much anyway. Of course, there are people I like to spend time with and I’ll find some way to do that without disrupting my training routine.
JIC: As a lightweight player do you have to diet to make your weight class?
GP: I generally like to eat healthy food, so usually I can eat whatever I want. But before competitions, I need to be more careful and eat according to a precise menu. So, I do diet but my daily routine makes weight management relatively easy.
JIC: Can you share with us how you typically develop a technique? Do you come up with the idea or does your coach?
GP: Sometimes I see something I want to work on, and I’ll show it to my coach to ask for his opinions. But mostly the coaches are the ones who suggest things to me and then I’ll try them. When we decide to work on something, I’ll practice it from every possible scenario and then I’ll try it out in randori. Randori is very important as it gives you a sense of whether something can work or not in competition, when your opponent is resisting.
JIC: Judo is a popular sport in Israel but are there enough top-level girls in your weight class to give you the high-quality randori you need?
GP: Our randori trainings are conducted in such a way that all the girls from cadets, juniors and seniors train together. So, there is volume. And the younger ones are usually very eager to beat the older ones so that really keeps the seniors on their toes. From time to time we travel to training camps around the world. We also get many visitors from other countries who come to train with us. So, there is diversity too.
JIC: Any words to other judokas also trying to cope with this Covid-19 crisis?
GP: Yes… stay home and be positive!
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