Saeid Mollaei, a former Iranian judoka now representing the Mongolia team, dedicated his silver medal in the men’s 81-kilogram division to Israel, after losing the gold to Japan’s Takanori Nagase.
“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel,” he told the Israeli Sports Channel. “I hope the Israelis are happy with this win.”
He then said in Hebrew: “Toda” (Thank you).
Mollaei represented Mongolia to win his first Olympic medal after leaving Iran two years ago after it was reported that his coaches had instructed him to lose in the 2019 semifinals at the World Championships in Tokyo only to prevent him from going up against Israeli opponent, Sagi Muki, in the final, according to The Times of Israel.
After this incident, Mollaei moved to Germany and then became a Mongolian citizen.
Coincidently, Mollaei and his would-be Israeli opponent, Muki, became friends after the 2019 World Championship incident, offering each other support.
“I’m super happy for Saeid,” Muki said in a press conference of Israeli reporters Tuesday.
“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.”
Muki placed ninth overall in this week’s competition.
The story of their unique and unlikely friendship is currently being developed for television by Israel’s Tadmor Entertainment and MGM, the Times reported.
During the current Olympics, two judokas, representing Sudan and Algeria, have bowed out in order to avoid facing Israel’s Tohar Butbul.