Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei dedicated his silver medal to Israel after competing in the final of the men’s judo 81-kilogram division at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.
“This medal is also dedicated to Israel and I hope the Israelis appreciate this achievement,” Mollaei said, according to public broadcaster Kan.
Mollaei, who represents Mongolia, claimed his first Olympic medal two years after fleeing his native Iran after the country's judo union tried to pressure him to deliberately lose in the semifinals of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.
Mollaei departed for Germany and then acquired Mongolian citizenship.
Following the incident, Mollaei and Muki have fostered a close friendship and International Judo Federation (IJF) President Marius Wieser took the Iranian under his wing.
The IJF had hit Iran with an indefinite ban from international competition until it can give strong guarantees that its athletes will be allowed to face Israelis.
Takanori Nagase of Japan defeated Mollaei to win gold for the host country.
"I hope the Israelis are happy with this win," Mollaei said, adding in Hebrew: "Todah (thank you)."
Muki congratulated his friend on the achievement during a press conference Tuesday with Israeli media, saying that he deserves the medal and calling his journey "incredibly inspiring."
Earlier this year, Mollaei traveled to Tel Aviv to compete in a Judo Grand Slam competition, winning silver for Mongolia.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.