Thu, 23 Sep 2021

Saeid Mollaei, an Iranian defector representing Mongolia at the Tokyo Olympics, has won a silver medal in judo for his adopted country.

Mollaei, 29, lost to Japan's Takanori Nagase in the men's 81-kg judo final on July 27.

Mollaei, who won the 2018 world championship title, left Iran two years ago after being ordered to deliberately lose at a World Cup tournament to avoid fighting Israel's Sagi Muki in the final.

As a result, Iran was suspended from the sport by the International Judo Federation, although the ban was canceled earlier this year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Iran regards Israel as its archfoe and its athletes usually refuse to face Israeli opponents, whether by giving up the match or failing to show up.

Mollaei initially fought for the refugee team before gaining Mongolian citizenship.

In February 2021, he fought in Israel and met Muki, who called him his 'brother.'

'I left everything behind me and started a new life,' Mollaei said after his narrow defeat by Nagase.

Muki, who was eliminated from the Tokyo Games by an Austrian judoka, nevertheless congratulated Mollaei.

"I'm super happy for Saeid," Muki told a news conference of Israeli reporters on July 27. "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."

The unlikely friendship between Mollaei and Muki is reportedly being turned into a television series in Israel.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and timesofisrael.com

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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