Ze’evi: Muki on path to becoming Israel’s greatest judoka

“We finally have our own world champion in blue-and-white,” Muki’s coach said.

SAGI MUKI became the first Israeli male judoka to win a world championships gold medal this week in Tokyo (photo credit: REUTERS)
SAGI MUKI became the first Israeli male judoka to win a world championships gold medal this week in Tokyo
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arik Ze’evi understands a thing or two about judo greatness. The legendary Israeli judoka, who won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics while capturing 10 European and World Championships medals (including four golds) throughout his illustrious career, believes that new world champion Sagi Muki is the one who will eventually be remembered as the greatest judoka in Israeli history.
The Netanya-born Muki won the gold medal at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo on Wednesday, beating all six of his opponents to finish in first place in the under-81kg competition.
The 27-year-old Israeli – who also took golds at the 2015 European Games in Baku and the 2018 European Championships in Tel Aviv – sang along from the podium with tears in his eyes as Hatikvah  played and the Israeli flag waved.
“Congratulations to Sagi Muki, who accomplished something amazing by becoming the first male Israeli judoka to earn a gold medal at the Worlds,” said Ze’evi. “This is not the first time Sagi has been so impressive, but he is now on the path to becoming Israel’s greatest-ever judoka. He just needs an Olympic medal to solidify his legacy.”
With the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, this year’s judo Worlds were held in the same venue that the Olympic competition will be in, and Muki’s victory significantly improved his chances of contending for a medal at the Games.
“While there is still a lot of work to do before the Olympics, I’m sure Sagi’s team will have him prepared to turn this world championship medal into an Olympic podium finish,” said Ze’evi.
An excited Muki summed up his huge achievement.
“It wasn’t an easy day. My training was so debilitating – both physically and mentally – and I’m glad I managed to finish in the sweetest way possible,” he said. “Hearing Hatikvah here? Such an unbelievable feeling. I didn’t have a world championships medal until today and I sacrificed a lot for it. Knowing that all the sacrifice paid off makes it all the more sweet.”
Primer Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a video chat with Muki and congratulated him on his accomplishment
“You’ve proven what I always say, that thanks to talented wonderful people such as yourself we turned Israel into a judo powerhouse,” said Netanyahu, also inviting Muki to visit the Prime Minister’s Office with the medal.
In the quarterfinals, Muki beat Egyptian Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake Muki’s hand after the match, a sign of great disrespect in the sport.
“I was sorry to see that happen,” noted Muki. “But I am nevertheless glad to have shown Israel’s beautiful face, my way. Respecting one’s opponent is a core judo value, one which I grew up with and will always continue to practice. The Olympics? I have another year to train and do everything to continue to fulfill my dreams.”
Former Israeli Olympic medalist Oren Smadja, who is Muki’s coach, was thrilled with Wednesday’s result.
“We finally have our own world champion in blue-and-white,” declared Smadja, “Muki was amazing today. It is not new that Israel succeeds in producing world championship medals, but this is the first gold among the men. Of course, we aim as high as possible and do everything to surpass past achievements, and today Sagi did that, one of the greatest Israeli sporting accomplishments in recent times… I love the country and it is fun for me to stand with this team.”
Israel has a long and rich judo history. The country’s first two Olympic medals were in judo, at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, where Yael Arad won the silver medal in women’s half middleweight, and Smadja won the bronze medal in men’s lightweight. The Israel Judo Association’s Hall of Fame includes Arad, Smadja, world champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Yarden Gerbi, and Ze’evi, and will certainly also one day include 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ori Sasson and Muki.