Timna Nelson Levy: My goal was really to come back with a medal

Israelian Timna Nelson Levy finished seventh at the 2020 Olympic Games but was essential in the team event winning bronze. When Timna Nelson-Levy stepped on to the mat to face fellow judoka Daria Mezhetskaia in the bronze medal match of the mixed team event at the Tokyo Olympics, she could feel the pressure on her shoulders.

She is born in Jerusalem to American parents, competed fifth in the lineup against the Russian Olympic Committee, with three Israeli wins already in the books out of six rounds, giving her a shot at clinching the medal for the entire team.

“I was the deciding match,” Nelson-Levy told The Times of Israel.

“When I walked up the stairs to the judo mat, I felt the pressure. I knew we could make history.”

And the moment that she won that match, securing a medal for every member of Israel’s judo team, “I was overwhelmed with joy, I couldn’t control my feelings — I was jumping up and down,” said Nelson-Levy. “I was just looking over my shoulder to my teammates and my coaches. I was just so happy to get my team and my coach this medal, because they all worked so hard for it and they all deserved it.”

Later that day, a bronze medal was hung around the neck of the entire Israeli team as the 11 judokas stepped onto the podium in Tokyo.

“It’s the biggest stage in the world and we brought a medal,” said Nelson-Levy. And while she has earned more than a dozen medals in international competitions, nothing, she said, compares to an Olympic medal.

“Because it’s the biggest stage in the world, it’s the competition that every athlete dreams of coming back from with a medal,” she said. “Not a lot do, so of course it is the most special feeling.”

Nelson-Levy is a native Jerusalemite, born to American parents who immigrated to Israel shortly after getting married. All of her extended family, as well as now two of her six siblings, live in the United States.

“We’re in really close contact with my American family, and you know in a way I do feel that I also represented America, and my cousins from America” at the Olympic Games, she said.

Her mother, Laura, a tour guide, named the future judoka after the Timna Park situated just outside of Eilat, which she visited while pregnant with her.

Nelson-Levy began dabbling in martial arts when she was just 6, trying out jujitsu and mixed martial arts before settling on judo at age 13. And even from a very young age, she said, she dreamed of one day competing at the Olympic Games.

“Even before I moved to judo I knew that this was something I wanted to do — I wanted to be an Olympic medalist,” she said. “That was my goal for as long as I can remember.”

Arriving in Tokyo last month for her first Olympic Games, she said, was the culmination of almost 20 years of dreams. But just participating, she said, was never the goal.

“My goal wasn’t just to get to the Olympics and say I was an Olympian,” she said. “My goal was really to come back with a medal.”

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