Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was named world champion Wednesday, taking the gold medal at the World Judo Championship finals in Tokyo, Japan, and becoming the first male Israeli athlete to receive the top prize.
Muki claimed the gold after defeating Belgium’s Matthias Casse in the finals of the men’s under-81 kilogram weight class.
The middleweight champion reached the finals after narrowly defeating Egyptian opponent Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake his hand at the end of their match (echoing another Egyptian judoka’s actions when losing to Israel’s Ori Sasson at the Rio Olympics in 2016). “I’m sorry” that Abdelaal refused, said Muki. “I’m pleased that I was able to show the beautiful face of Israel.”
Ahead of the semi-final there were reports that Iran’s Saeid Mollaei, who had also advanced to the penultimate stage, could drop out if he were paired with Muki — although Iran was recently reported to end its longstanding ban on its athletes facing off with Israelis.
The matter was not tested, however, as Mollaei eventually fought, and lost to, Belgium’s Casse while Muki fought Abdelaal. Casse and Mollaei “are both excellent sportsmen,” said Muki.
After the victory, Israel’s national anthem ‘Hatikvah’ was played at the medal ceremony as Muki and Israeli members of the audience sang along.
Muki’s win makes him the first male Israeli to be named world champion. In 2013 Yarden Jarbi won the World Judo Championship in Rio de Janeiro in the women’s under-63 kilogram weight class.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Muki on his win, tweeting: “You’ve brought us all great honor and pride.”
In a conversation between the two broadcast on Israeli TV, Muki told Netanyahu it was “a privilege” to represent Israel, and said he was boosted by the large number of Israelis supporting him in the arena.