TOKYO - Israeli judoka Sagi Muki, who competes in the under 81kg weight category, bested his Belgian opponent Matthias Casse in the final to win the gold medal at the Judo World Championship on Wednesday.
Muki got a fifth Ippon in six fights with a minute and 21 seconds left to end the match, and burst into tears as the referee declared him the winner.
A few minutes later, he stepped onto the winners podium at the Nippon Budokan Arena in Tokyo and sang along as the Israeli national anthem "Hatikva" played.
The 27-year-old is the first Israeli male to win the prestigious title. This is his first world title after having won gold twice at the European Championships in 2015 and 2018.
The Netanya-born athlete faced six opponents on his journey to the gold medal and showed complete dominance after beating most of them by Ippon. His Egyptian quarter-final opponent Mohammed Abdelaal refused to shake his hand after having lost their match.
After the competition, the new world champion told reporters in Tokyo that he never lost faith he could win, but conceded that his semi-final bout "was a very hard fight."
"I came close to losing but I gave it everything and I never stopped believing. I'm glad I managed to keep up the pressure," he said.
"This is my first time (as world champion) and it's a very special moment for me," he said. "I finally did it. It was a tough day."
Muki also paid tribute to his fellow Israelis who travelled to the compeition to support him and his teammates.
"Judo is the most successful sport in Israel and every medal creates a great fuss," he said.
"A lot of Israelis came to Tokyo to encourage the team and I'm glad I could them happy."
Sagi Muki is @Judo world champion!— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) August 28, 2019
Your achievement makes us so proud and teaches us that hard work, humanity and a hand always extended in peace can conquer the greatest heights.
Congratulations on your gold medal and thank you for the pride you bring us all as #Israelis pic.twitter.com/VC4wh5iArZ
A delighted President Reuven Rivlin took to Twitter to congratulate Muki, writing: "Your achievement makes us so proud and teaches us that hard work, humanity and a hand always extended in peace can conquer the greatest heights.
"Congratulations on your gold medal and thank you for the pride you bring us all as Israelis," he wrote.