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Bronze medal judoka: Muslim athletes often snub Israelis

Or Sasson says he wanted to show ‘respect’ to Egyptian rival Islam El Shehaby, who says Sasson is ‘not my friend’

Bronze medalist Or Sasson celebrates on the podium of the men's over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 12, 2016. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Bronze medalist Or Sasson celebrates on the podium of the men's over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 12, 2016. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Israel’s Olympic judoka Or Sasson said Sunday that he did not expect his Egyptian opponent, whom he defeated en route to winning a bronze medal, to shake his hand, but still decided to extend his own hand to his opponent to show “respect.”

Speaking from Rio de Janeiro two days after winning the medal in the over-100kg tournament, Sasson said that Muslim athletes are often cold toward Israeli competitors, but that while rival judokas may not be friends, they should show appreciation for each other.

“To honor your rival is something I was educated to do,” he told Army Radio. “The Olympics is built on respect.”

The Egyptian El Youm el Sabah news site on Sunday quoted Islam El Shehaby, Sasson’s rival, as saying he did not initially plan to ignore the outstretched hand of his Israeli opponent, but that it was rather a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Egypt's Islam El Shehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel's Or Sasson in their men's over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)
Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel’s Or Sasson in their men’s over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Shehaby noted he didn’t break any rules by not shaking Sasson’s hand moments after the Israeli threw him to the mat, beating him.

“The Israeli athlete is not my friend who I must greet,” he said, adding, “I worked really hard to get into this Olympics, and in the end it turned into something political.”

Sasson, a two-time European silver medalist who turns 26 on August 18, brushed off the unpleasant encounter with Shehaby in the first round of the tournament and went on to win two more fights, claiming a place in the semifinals against France’s legendary Teddy Riner. After narrowly losing to Riner, he beat Cuba’s Alex Mendoza to claim a bronze.

Israel's Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt's Islam Elshehaby during their men's +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Toshifumi KITAMURA)
Israel’s Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby during their men’s over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Israeli athletes who compete in international events have learned to expect a cold attitude from Arab and some Muslim participants, he said.

“It is something that has happened a few times already in the past,” he related. “We have seen other incidents where Muslim athletes don’t shake hands with Israelis. It didn’t surprise me. I was ready for such a scenario. My goal was to win the bout.”

The Egyptian Masry Alyoum news site quoted Shehaby as saying Sunday that his loss to the Israeli was due to the stress and pressure from the media before the match.

The Egyptian Olympic Committee issued a statement saying Shehaby’s action was an independent decision, and warned him to comply with the Olympic rules and act with sportsmanship.

However, Egyptian journalist and popular news host Ahmed al-Moslimani said Saturday in his “The First Edition” TV program, broadcast on the Egyptian pro-regime Dream TV channel, that Shehaby was conveying a “message more important than judo and the match. His actions drew attention to Israeli crimes.”

Maayan Davidovich in action in Rio on August 12, 2016 (Courtesy)
Maayan Davidovich in action at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, August 12, 2016 (Courtesy)

More medal hopes

As the Games enter their ninth day Sunday, Israel is looking to its field athletes and sailors for more medal prospects.

Windsurfer Maayan Davidovich was set to compete in the medal race of the RS:X Women’s competition after taking second place in two of the final races of Friday’s opening series.

Davidovich currently has 60 points, putting her within striking distance of the medals.

Meanwhile, Israeli triple-jump champion Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko snagged a place in the women’s finals on Saturday, ranking 8th in the qualifying round.

Israel's Hanna Knyazyeva competes in the Women's Triple Jump Qualifying Round at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, August 13, 2016. (AFP/Adrian DENNIS)
Israel’s Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko competes in the Women’s Triple Jump Qualifying Round at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 13, 2016. (AFP/Adrian Dennis)

Knyazyeva-Minenko earned her spot with a final jump result of 14.20 meters (15.5 yards).

The women’s triple-jump finals will take place on Monday, August 15.

Knyazyeva-Minenko, who placed fourth at the 2012 Olympics and won a silver medal at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam last month, holds Israel’s national triple-jump record.

In synchronized swimming, Israel duo Anastasia Gloushkov Leventhal and Ievegeniia Tetelbaum will begin their competition with the preliminary rounds of the Duets Free Routine.

Out on the water in the two-person 470 (dinghy) event, Eyal Levine and Dan Froyliche will continue their bid in the men’s contest, while sailors Gil Cohen and Nina Amir will compete in the women’s races.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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