JERUSALEM, Israel — Shortly after winning a silver medal in Judo at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei dedicated the award to Israel.
Mollaei represented Mongolia in the men’s -81Kg division, losing the gold to Japan’s Takanori Nagase.
Mollaei told the Israeli Sports Channel he is grateful for the support he’s received from Israel after defecting from Iran.
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“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel,” he said. “I hope the Israelis are happy with this win.”
Mollaei won his first Olympic medal two years after fleeing Iran after his country’s judo team tried to pressure him into deliberately losing in the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo to avoid competing against Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final. Mollaei subsequently went to Germany and then gained Mongolian citizenship.
Muki congratulated Mollaei after his win.
“I’m super happy for Saeid,” the Israeli judoka told reporters. “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.”
This year at the Tokyo Olympics, two judo athletes from Sudan and Algeria, have forfeited the competition to avoid facing an Israeli competitor.
The International Olympic Committee vowed to investigate the incidents.
“Obviously the IOC is always concerned in these cases and is monitoring it very closely,” International Olympic Committee director of solidarity James Macleod said. “Clearly if there are flagrant abuses of the Olympic charter, the IOC will take all necessary measures in that respect.”