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'This is their system' (archives)
Photo: Yonatan Hauerstock
Israel's Gili Haimovitz
Photo: Oren Aharoni
Israel wins taekwondo gold after Iran withdrawal
Iranian delegation says athlete withdrew from Youth Olympics due to injury, but Israel says move meant to avoid 'having to listen to Israeli anthem and see Israeli flag over Iranian flag'

Israel won its first gold medal at the Youth Olympics on Sunday after the Iranian athlete in the boys' taekwondo final withdrew from competition.

 

The Iranian delegation told the games' internal news service that its athlete withdrew because of injury but Israel said the withdrawal was political.

 

Israel said Mohammad Soleimani did not appear at the medals ceremony alongside Israeli Gili Haimovitz and added it was common for Iranians to avoid competing with Israelis. The internal news service said Soleimani was taken to hospital.

 

Daniel Oren, head of the Israeli delegation, said he was thrilled at the gold medal but expressed frustration that the victory was not earned on the mat. 

 

"When Gili won the semifinal, we knew the Iranian was making the final. Already, we knew that the Iranians would not come," Oren said. "This is their system. On the one hand, we got the gold medal. It's every exciting for us. On the other hand, we would prefer winning by competing."

 

'Unable to compete'

Haimovitz said he was happy to have won gold.

 

"Actually, I don't want to get into politics or that kind of thing," the 17-year-old Oren said. "I don't know. I was ready for a fight. If he came out or not, I don't care."

 

An Iranian official did not immediately respond to repeated calls to his cell phone.

 

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said it is "my understanding is that he was taken to hospital and unable to compete."

 

The World Taekwondo Federation confirmed Haimovitz's victory but did not elaborate. When contacted by The Associated Press, the federation spokesman denied that there was a political motive for the withdrawal.

 

Alex Gilady, an IOC member from Israel who handed out the medals for the competition, said it was a tactic by Iran to avoid violation of Olympic rules.  

 

"Once he (Soleimani) was injured, that meant he still would win the silver ... have to stand on the podium and listen to the Israeli anthem and see the Israeli flag over the Iranian flag," Gilady said. "They put him in an ambulance so at least they would not create a crisis that would have demanded further action. So it looks like everything is OK."

 

Iran in the past has stated that its policy is to withdraw from competing against Israel because it does not recognize the country. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Iranian Arash Miresmaeili, a two-time world judo champion, refused to compete against Israel's Ehud Vaks in the opening round of the 66kg competition. He said his decision was to show solidarity for the Palestinian cause.

 

 

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