by Joshua Hagen
I am and have long been a huge fan of Saeid MOLLAEI as a judoka. I do not know him personally, nor anyone in his inner circle, but it saddens me as a former competitive judoka as well as a judo enthusiast to see what occurred in both the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam as well as in the Paris Grand Slam.
I feel for MOLLAEI as he clearly is crushed with what he has to do. He unquestionably prepared and put himself in a position to win the Paris Grand Slam. He quickly beat KOHARA of JPN and smashed the 2017 World Champion WIECZERZAK of GER with a beautiful kata guruma. He then followed that up in the repechage with a beautiful win over Matthias CASSE of BEL and finally finishing his day off with an awesome win over the defending Olympic Champion Khasan KHALMURZAEV of RUS. To be honest he had one hell of a day filled with great performances. Here is the highlights of his day.
That is, other than one blemish, if he were to win his Quarter-Final he would have been facing Sagi MUKI of ISR in the Semi-Final, I think this would also be a great match-up of two of my very favourite judoka. He clearly gave away his Quarter-Final to Ruslan MUSSAYEV of KAZ.
This is not the first time that a truly great judoka from Iran was forced into this position. Arash MIRESMAELLI was a double World Champion (2001 and 2003) in 66kg. He drew the Israeli first round of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and due to his countries political stance of not recognizing Israel as a country he was forced to give away the match.
I bring this up not because I believe that there should be any sort of punishment towards the athletes, not at all, but rather because it is just so disheartening. MIRESMAELLI had a chance to go down as one of the greatest judoka of all time! Instead there are many judoka who have never heard of him. I fear a similar scenario could be on the horizon for MOLLAEI. He is an incredible and innovative judoka. A world bronze medalist in 2017 and in 2018 the World Champion. The 2020 Olympics are just around the corner and he is the defending World Champion. If he were to have a similar fate it would be a great dissapointment to me, but more importantly I am sure it would be heartbreaking for MOLLAEI.
I don't know what the answer is, I don't know how to fix it, but there is one thing I am sure of. When you watch him wiping the tears from his face, while being forced to give away his chance at a Gold Medal at the Paris Grand Slam, this debacle personally and professionally affects no one more than him.
I have attached the match against KAZ below. The podcast version of the blog is at the bottom.
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