Iranian Saeid Mollaei thanked Israel in the Jewish language of Hebrew after winning the silver medal in judo for his adopted country of Mongolia.
Mollaei fled Iran after refusing an order to purposefully lose in the 2019 World Championships so he didn’t face Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final, according to The Times of Israel.
The defending world champion was granted asylum in Germany before receiving citizenship in Mongolia. He was chosen to represent the country at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
"Todah", he said, which means thank you in Hebrew.
“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel,” he added to the Israeli Sports Channel, according to The Jerusalem Post. “I hope the Israelis are happy with this win."
Mollaei, 29, and Israel’s Muki, 25, became close friends after the attempted fix in 2019, which is being made into a television series by MGM and Israel’s Tadmor Entertainment.
Muki, who was knocked out of the competition on Tuesday, congratulated his friend on the achievement, saying he was "super happy for Saeid.
“I know what he’s gone through, and how much he wanted it," he told a press conference, according to the Times.
"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 International Judo Federation suspended Iran for four years over its refusal to allow its fighters to face Israelis, say
Two judo athletes from Sudan and Algeria dropped out before facing Israeli competitors in Tokyo.
Sudan’s Mohamed Abalrasool missed the round against Israel’s Tohar Butbul on Monday while Algeria’s Fethi Nourine was suspended after he withdrew on Saturday.
“These are things that sometimes occur in judo, so it wasn’t that odd for me,” Butbul said through a translator. “I just had to wait, stay focused and wait for my first chance.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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