Defying expectations that she would forfeit the match, Saudi Arabia’s judoka Tahani Alqahtani faced off against Israel’s Raz Hershko in the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. Hershko won the fight, but lost a later round in the competition.
Historically, many athletes from Arab or Muslim nations have boycotted playing against Israelis in sporting matches. A pair of judokas forfeited their matches this week rather than face an Israeli opponent.
Hershko beat Alqahtani in the women’s +78kg category. The two even shook hands following the match.
Prior to the fight, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee announced Alqahtani would be facing the Israeli judoka, in a rare message for a country with no official ties with Israel.
Hershko later lost to Japan’s Akira Sone, ending her dreams of a Tokyo 2020 Olympics medal.
At the same time, Or Sasson, who won bronze in judo at the 2016 Games, lost to France’s Teddy Riner in the men’s +100kg category during the elimination round.
A lot going on here… Saudi Arabia agrees to face Israel in Judo, gets spectacularly battered, then a handshake… historic pic.twitter.com/N3Nah26fiR
— Jake Wallis Simons (@JakeWSimons) July 30, 2021
“He deserves the victory, but I did what I could. I put my heart and soul on the mat,” Sasson said following the bout.
“I am proud to represent Israel, it is a great privilege,” he added.
Meanwhile, swimmer Aviv Barzelay finished 8th in the women’s 200m backstroke semi-final on Friday, and will not proceed to the final round. She placed 15th overall.
Sprinter Diana Vaisman, despite reaching her personal best of 11:27 in the 100m race, was bested by rivals from the United States, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, and finished at 4th place.
Sailer Shay Kakon finished 5th in Friday’s Laser Radial, but placed at an overall 30th, meaning she won’t be advancing to the final round for a chance at a medal.
The results meant that Avishag Semberg’s taekwondo bronze in the women’s -49kg category on Saturday remains Israel’s only medal so far in the 2021 games.
Eyes in Israel again turn to the baseball team, which will face off against the US on Friday afternoon (Israel time) in an opening round.
On Thursday, Israel’s baseball team lost a dramatic game to South Korea. The game went into extra innings with the game tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth at the Yokohama Baseball Stadium south of Tokyo.
If Israel loses Friday’s game, the team will head into a knockout round game next week.
Amy Spiro contributed to this report.