By Yaron Steinbuch
(JULY 28, 2021 / NEW YORK POST) An Iranian defector who won the Olympic silver medal for Mongolia in judo has dedicated it to Israel – saying “Thank you” in Hebrew for the country’s support.
Saeid Mollaei left his native country after his coaches ordered him to lose in the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo to avoid facing the Israeli Sagi Muki in the final, the Times of Israel reported.
The judoka moved to Germany before acquiring Mongolian citizenship.
He told the Israeli Sports Channel that he appreciated all the support he received from the Jewish state as he pursued his Olympic dreams.
“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel. I hope the Israelis are happy with this win,” Mollaei told the network, adding in Hebrew, “Todah.”
He finished second in the men’s 81-kilorgram division, losing to Japan’s Takanori Nagase.
Muki, 25, the 2019 world champion, congratulated his friend despite losing his own match in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“I’m super happy for Saeid,” Muki told Israeli reporters in Tokyo. “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.”
In February, Mollaei took home the silver at the Grand Slam international judo competition in Tel Aviv – telling CNN that Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,”
He added that the Israeli judokas “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”
Mollaei’s message of goodwill comes after two athletes dropped out of the Olympics before facing Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul in the 73-kilogram division.
Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool didn’t show up to face Butbul in their round of 32 bout Monday despite weighing in for it earlier.
Algeria’s Fethi Nourine was sent home from Tokyo and suspended by the International Judo Foundation on Saturday after he withdrew to avoid a potential matchup with the Israeli.
The Algerian, who is ranked 31st, explicitly cited his support for Palestinians for his decision in the Olympics.
This article was originally published in the New York Post and can be viewed here.