An Iranian athlete left his country after being told to lose on purpose, won silver at the Olympics for Mongolia, and dedicated the medal to Israel

·3-min read
An Iranian athlete left his country after being told to lose on purpose, won silver at the Olympics for Mongolia, and dedicated the medal to Israel
Iranian Judo athlete
Saeid Mollaei with his silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Harry How/Getty Images, Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Saeid Mollaei won a silver medal in judo at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday.

  • Mollaei, who is originally from Iran but is representing Mongolia, dedicated the medal to Israel.

  • Mollaei left Iran two years ago after he was told to lose on purpose to avoid an Israeli opponent.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Saeid Mollaei won silver in judo at the Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, then used his victory to honor the enemy of his home country.

Mollaei, who is originally from Iran but is competing for Mongolia, dedicated his silver medal to Israel. Iran and Israel have been in a proxy conflict since 1985.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Mollaei told an Israeli sports channel, "Thank you to Israel for all the good energy." He added, "This medal is dedicated to you as well, and I hope Israelis is happy with this victory, todah," which means "thank you" in Hebrew.

Mollaei's abandonment of Iran stems from an incident at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo.

There, Mollaei represented Iran and advanced to the semifinal. He was looking to defend his championship after winning gold at the previous year's event in Azerbaijan. But Iranian authorities ordered him to intentionally lose the match to ensure he wouldn't have to face the Israeli champion Sagi Muki in the final, he said.

The International Judo Federation this year called Iran's tampering "a serious breach and gross violation of the statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles and objectives" and suspended the country from the event for four years.

After exposing what Iranian authorities had forced him to do, Mollaei fled the country and went into hiding. He found asylum in Germany in August 2019 on a two-year visa, then became a citizen of Mongolia in December 2019.

Mollaei and Muki went on to develop a friendship - they each spent the next two years preparing for the Olympics and cheering each other on at various international competitions.

Muki lost in the Olympic quarterfinal earlier on Tuesday but said he was happy to see Mollaei win silver.

"I'm super happy for Saeid," Muki said, according to The Times of Israel. "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."

When Mollaei competed at an international judo competition in Tel Aviv in February, he lauded the hospitality of the Israeli people.

Israelis "have been very good to me since I arrived," Mollaei said, according to CNN. "Today I have trained with the Israeli team and they have been very kind. That is something I will never forget."

Mollaei and Muki's friendship is even being adapted into a scripted TV series - they sold the rights to their story to MGM/UA Television and Israel's Tadmor Entertainment, Deadline reported in March.

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