Saeid Mollaei won silver in Judo at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday, and after his victory, he dedicated his medal to his country's rival.
Mollaei, originally from Iran, competed for Mongolia and after winning, he dedicated his silver medal to Israel. Iran and Israel have had conflict since 1985.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Mollaei told an Israeli sports channel: "Thank you to Israel for all the good energy 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 left Iran after an incident at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo.
He represented Iran and made it all the way to the semi-final. After winning gold at the previous year's event in Azerbaijan, he was prepared to renew his title, but Iranian authorities had a different idea. They ordered him to lose the fight so he wouldn't have to face the Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki in the final, he said.
The International Judo Federation this year called Iran's meddling "a serious breach and gross violation of the statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles, and objectives" and suspended the country from competing for 4 years.
Mollaei later fled the country after exposing the authorities and went into hiding. He traveled to Germany and found asylum in August 2019. Later that year, in December 2019, he became a citizen of Mongolia.
Mollaei and Muki quickly developed a friendship together, which saw the pair cheering each other on at various international competitions throughout their 2-year preparation for the Olympics.
Muki lost in the quarterfinals 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."
During an international judo competition in Tel Aviv in February, Mollaei praised the Israeli people for their hospitality.
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."
And people are sharing their thought's on his recent move...
One Facebook user wrote: "There are so many positive, good news stories coming out of these Olympics. I was critical of Japan's decision to proceed with them, but now think that these games have given so many great stories which demonstrate the strength of the spirit, not just our bodies despite the last year and a half."
While another commented: "It's good to see some humanity amongst all the negative publicity surrounding these nations."