August 14, 2016

Israel’s Sunday newspapers are filled with pictures and reports of Israeli judoka Or “Ori” Sasson, who won the country’s second bronze medal at the Rio Olympic Games on Friday (August 12).

Sasson won his bronze medal in the judo men’s 100-plus-kilogram division, giving Israel two medals in the same Olympic Games for the first time in 12 years.

“My dream came true in front of my eyes,” said Sasson. “I have worked so hard for this. I’ve had so many wins and so many losses and today was my day. I defeated all my fears.”

Sasson won four of his five matches to win the Olympic bronze, losing only to French judoka and gold medal winner Teddy Riner.

His medal win comes on the heels of Israel’s first bronze medal of the game, also won by a judoka, Yarden Gerbi, on August 9. But Sasson’s podium finish is making huge international waves because of an early match with Egyptian opponent, Islam El Shehaby.

El Shehaby refused to shake hands with the 25-year-old Jerusalemite after the match and was booed by the crowd for his unsportsmanlike behavior.

“El Shehaby backed off after Sasson went over to him,” said BBC judo commentator Mark Doran. “That is very disappointing. That is what the Olympics is not about. To his credit, Sasson just moved on.”

“There was nothing graceful or honorable in what we saw when eventual bronze medalist, Or Sasson from Israel, defeated Egyptian rival Islam El Shahaby in the first round,” writes The Sydney Morning Herald. “The Olympics celebrates humanity. With one brief but significant gesture, El Shahaby ruined the party.”

“The Olympic movement should be about building bridges, not erecting walls. There’s absolutely no excuse for it,” an International Olympic Committee spokesman said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sasson after the end of the Sabbath (on Saturday night) to congratulate Sasson.

“Every boy and girl saw not just a great athlete but also a man of values,” said Netanyahu, referring to Sasson’s professionalism in the El-Shahaby debacle in the first round of the tournament. “You showed the true face of Israel, the beautiful, proud face of a strong country that seeks peace.”

Channel 2 news then asked Netanyahu directly about the incident and Sasson’s behavior. “He won, he stretched out his hand,” the prime minister said. He showed “the beautiful, strong face of Israel.”

President Reuven Rivlin also called Sasson to congratulate him on bringing Israel its ninth overall Olympic medal and the country’s fifth in judo, specifically.

“Ori the Jerusalemite, my champion… You wanted it and you were capable. We are all so proud of you,” Rivlin said.

“You’ve brought honor to the country in such a clear and gentlemanly way. To go and shake the hand of your Egyptian opponent is something all of Israel and all of Egypt is talking about, and here too you’ve won,” Rivlin said.

Israel’s medal hopes are still alive at the Rio Games. Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko will compete in the triple-jump finals tomorrow, and windsurfer Maayan Davidovich is currently in sixth place of the RS:X women’s competition. Israel’s top-rated rhythmic gymnasts are set to begin competition at the Rio Games on August 19.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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