Israeli judoka Sagi Muki celebrates with his gold medal after winning the under-81kg event at the European Judo Championships in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The European Judo Championships came to a close in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, with Israel’s representatives ending the event with four medals, three bronzes and Sagi Muki’s gold.
Muki scaled the top of the podium in the under-81kg competition on Friday, being crowned as European champion for the second time. The 25-year-old claimed the gold medal in the under-73kg contest at the continental championships in Baku in 2015, and proved that he can compete and beat Europe’s best in his weight-class.
Muki came within a single win of the podium at the Rio 2016 Olympics, eventually finishing in fifth place after overcoming two slipped discs and a serious ankle injury.
He initially struggled for results after moving up under- 81kg, but everything came together for him at Tel Aviv’s Convention Center on Friday.
“I suffered an injury that put my career under real threat,” said Muki, who defeated Belgium’s Sami Chouchi in the final in golden score. “I couldn’t wash my face. Couldn’t tie my shoelaces. My mother helped me put on socks. All of this happened to me after I had already been crowed European Championships and just a short time before the Olympics. I worked really hard to be able to face heavier opponents and I dreamed of this moment.”
An emotional Muki didn’t manage to sing the words of Hatikvah when the national anthem played for the only time in the championships.
“This is the first time that I cried like this and was so emotional after winning,” he explained. “Everything I experienced after Rio made this moment so special.”
Israel’s fourth and final medal of the championships was won by Peter Paltchik in the men’s under-100kg event on Saturday. Paltchik lost to Cyrille Maret of France in the semifinals, but bounced back with a win over Niiaz Bilalov in the battle for the bronze.
“I always believed in myself,” said Paltchik. “I had one leg in the grave after injuring my shoulder. I felt like a gladiator and the crowd gave me so much energy.”
Gefen Primo and Tal Flicker both also won bronze medals in the opening day of competition on Friday.
There was also some disappointment for the hosts on Saturday, with Olympic medalist Ori Sasson already being knocked out in his first bout. Sasson, who took a bronze medal in Rio, received a bye into the second round but was then beaten by Russian Tamerlan Bashaev.
Due to the success of the championships, Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponte announced on Saturday that Tel Aviv is set to host one of judo’s Grand Prix events starting from 2019.