Tokyo Olympics: Iranian defector wins silver medal in judo

Iranian defector wins silver medal in judo at Tokyo Olympics and dedicates it to Israel, saying thank you in Hebrew

  • Saeid Mollaei came through a tense contest to claim the silver medal on Tuesday
  • The world champion faced Japan’s Takanori Nagase in the men’s 81kg judo final
  • Mollaei dedicated his medal to Israel and thanked them for all of their support
  • He defected from Iran after refusing to withdraw from 2019 judo championships
  • Find out the latest Tokyo Olympic news including schedule, medal table and results right here

Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei dedicated his first ever Olympic medal to Israel and thanked the country for the support they have given him after a nail-biting final.

Mollaei, 29, won the silver medal representing Mongolia in the men’s 81kg judo final on Tuesday, but lost out on claiming gold to Japan’s Takanori Nagase.

The judo world champion, who trained in Israel with their national judo team in the months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, thanked the country in Hebrew as he dedicated his first ever Olympic medal to Israel.

He told the Israeli Sports Channel: ‘Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel.’

Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei (pictured) dedicated his first ever Olympic medal to Israel and thanked the country for the support they have given him after a nail-biting final

Mollaei (in blue), 29, won the silver medal representing Mongolia in the men’s 81kg judo final on Tuesday, but lost out on claiming gold to Japan’s Takanori Nagase (in white)

Mollaei defected to Germany after he disobeyed a direct order from Iran’s minister to withdraw from the 2019 Judo World Championships in Japan to avoid fighting Israel’s Sagi Muki.

The judoka obtained Mongolian citizenship shortly afterwards and has previously said that he fears for his life if he returns home.

Muki congratulated his ‘close friend’ Mollaei on his Olympic medal, despite his own disappointing loss to Austria’s Shamil Borchashvili, which saw him knocked out in the round of 16.

He said: ‘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.’

Mollaei lost out on the Olympic gold medal to Takanori Nagase in a gruelling final that lasted more than five-and-a-half minutes. 

The contest came to a dramatic close when Nagase, 27, delivered an ashi-guruma foot wheel to throw Mollaei down on the tatami mats to earn a waza-ari sudden death overtime victory

The judo world champion, who trained in Israel before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, thanked the country in Hebrew as he dedicated his first ever Olympic medal to Israel

Pictured from left: Silver medalist Saeid Mollaei of Mongolia, gold medalist Takanori Nagase of Japan, bronze medalists Shamil Borchashvili of Austria and Matthias Casse of Belgium

The contest came to a dramatic close when Nagase, 27, delivered an ashi-guruma foot wheel to throw Mollaei down on the tatami mats to earn a waza-ari sudden death overtime victory. 

Rio bronze medallist Nagase’s victory marked a fifth judo gold medal for hosts Japan at the Games, edging them closer to their previous Olympic record of eight titles in 2004 in Athens.

Mollaei represented Mongolia in an international contest in Tel Aviv earlier this year, against the wishes of Tehran.

The former gold medallist competed in a two-day International Judi Federation (IJF) Grand Slam in Tel Aviv, but Iran reacted with disdain at the news.

President of the Iranian Judo Federation Arash Miresmaeili expressed regret that ‘a foolish athlete’ and ‘hollow champion who only thinks of his personal interests has gone to Tel Aviv and is proud of it’.

‘This is not an honour but a stain of shame on your forehead that will stay with you forever, because you have turned your back on the ideals of the system, on your homeland, and are proud of it,’ Miresmaeili said in a statement at the time, addressing Mollaei. 

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has prohibited any sporting events with its mortal enemy, Israel.

Mollaei defected to Germany after he disobeyed a direct order from Iran’s minister to withdraw from the 2019 Judo World Championships in Japan to avoid fighting Israel’s Sagi Muki

Muki (right) congratulated his ‘close friend’ Mollaei (left) on his Olympic medal, despite his own disappointing loss to Austria’s Shamil Borchashvili

Mollaei defected to Germany after he disobeyed orders to withdraw from the 2019 Judo World Championships to avoid fighting Israel’s Sagi Muki. 

During the world championship in Tokyo, Mollaei fought on despite orders from the Iranian deputy sports minister Mohammad Resa Davarzani.

The Iranian former gold medalist could have fought Israeli contender Saki Mugi in the final, had he not been defeated by Belgium’s Matthias Casse in the semis.

Muki later won the gold and called Mollaei ‘an inspiration’.

Mollaei was granted refugee status by Germany following the Tokyo games and has been allowed to compete under the Mongolian flag the by International Olympic Committee (IOC) since last March

He has admitted that he was ‘afraid of what might happen to my family and to myself’ if he goes back to his home country.

In October 2019, the International Judo Federation said it had banned Iran from international competition over the country’s refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli opponents. Iran said the ban was based on ‘false claims’. 

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