Israel’s top judokas suffered disappointing losses at the Tokyo Olympics, but the Jewish state was able to celebrate the next best thing, a silver medal for Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei.
Mollaei first made headlines back in 2019 when he publicly embraced an Israeli competitor, Sagi Muki, during a competition in China. He had defected from Iran earlier that year after being forced by the regime in Tehran to lose a Judo world championship semifinal match in Tokyo lest he have to face Muki in the title fight.
Mollaei today officially fights for Mongolia.
On Tuesday he faced and lost to Japan’s Takanori Nagase in the gold medal match for the men’s 81-kilogram division. The silver was Mollaei’s first Olympic medal.
Following the medal ceremony, Mollaei spoke to the Israeli Sports Channel and attributed part of his success to support from the Jewish state. “Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel. I hope the Israelis are happy with this win,” said the former Iranian, adding in Hebrew, “Todah!”
Muki, who had already been knocked out in the elimination round, gushed over his friend’s accomplishment, telling Israeli journalists: “I’m super happy for Saeid. I know what he’s gone through, and how much he wanted it. He’s a very close friend of mine, and I’m so happy that he succeeded in achieving his dream. He deserves it — his journey is incredibly inspiring.”
Earlier this year Mollaei was in Israel to compete in the Grand Slam international judo competition hosted by Tel Aviv. He said at the time that he would “never forget” the kindness shown to him by the Israelis.
— sagi muki (@sagimuki) February 15, 2021