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August 29, 2019 1:08 pm

Israeli Judoka Who Faced Prejudice on Way to World Title Sets Eyes on Next Goal — Olympic Gold

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein


Israeli judoka Sagi Muki. Photo: Naoki Nishimura / AFLO SPORT / Reuters.

Israel reached a sports milestone on Wednesday when judoka Sagi Muki won the gold medal at the World Judo Championship (WJC) in Tokyo, becoming the first Israeli ever to accomplish the feat.

Muki dropped to his knees and burst into tears after defeating Belgian judoka Matthias Casse to win the gold in the under-81 kilogram weight class, and later sang along with Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva” as it was played for the first time at the WJC.

In an interview with The Algemeiner on Thursday, Muki was asked how he felt about his win now that it had sunk in.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “It was one of my greatest dreams to be on the podium with the sweetest taste of a gold medal.”

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With the eyes of Israel and the larger judo community now on him, Muki said, “I need to get used to this world. I’m very glad I could do it.”

Muki’s road to the gold medal was a long one, but in the final stretch he dominated his competitors.

“From the beginning I had very good fights,” he said. “It showed that I was in the zone.”

In one of the final matches, Muki said, he gave his “best performance” and “then I knew I had a sure medal — silver or gold.”

“Also for Israel,” he added, “I understood that I did something big,” since the country does not have many sports medals and world championships.

Nonetheless, he did not become complacent.

“I don’t like to finish things beforehand,” he said. “I like to go all the way to the end.”

He recalled regarding the final match with Casse, “We know each other very well. We fought twice or three times. I knew he won’t let me win so easily.”

Determined to achieve the gold, Muki fought hard to the end and prevailed.

Asked how it felt to represent Israel as a world champion, Muki said, “I’m very proud of where I am from. We have a special crowd. A lot of Israelis came. It gave me a lot of power. A lot of motivation.”

Muki faced considerable prejudice on his road to the championship. An Iranian judoka publicly said he would not fight Muki if chosen to do so, and Egyptian opponent Mohamed Abdelaal refused to bow or shake his hand after losing to him.

Muki said he did not allow such incidents to faze him.

“I concentrate on each fight,” he said. “I don’t give it a place in my mind.”

“It’s a sad situation,” he added, “because judo is about the connection between people.”

What Abdelaal did, Muki said, was “against the value of the sport.”

Sports, Muki pointed out, should be about bringing people together. “Sport has a lot of power” to forge such ties, he said.

Asked what judo and the martial arts meant to him, Muki described it as “a way of life,” whose values motivated people “to respect each other, to go with all your power. To appreciate all the good. You appreciate all the support. That will go with me all my life after judo.”

As for what comes next, Muki said he would “sure not retire.”

Indeed, Muki has one more goal in mind — to bring home the gold for Israel in the next Olympic games, also in Tokyo.

“I have a lot of motivation to keep doing what I want to do,” he said. “I will keep doing it. I will get home and have a few days holiday, then I get back to my business.”

And to win the gold, he will come full circle and return to the scene of his triumph.

“I will fight in the same hall for the Olympics,” he said.

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