Israeli judoka Sagi Muki lost to Georgia’s Lasha Shavdatuashvili in the bronze medal match, thus failing to win the first Israeli medal considered to be within reach at the Rio Olympics.
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Muki had fought his way into the semifinals in his weight class on Monday with three solid wins. In the first round, the 24-year-old Muki beat his Slovenian opponent and former European champion Rok Drakič with a virtuoso Ippon (a move that ends the fight immediately) at 2:16 minutes. In the second, he got the better of German Igor Wandtke, while in the third round he beat the American Nicholas Delpopolo.
Muki then suffered a loss in the semifinals to Azerbaijan’s Rustam Orujov, which put him out of the running for Olympic gold or silver, but the bronze was still a possibility until his loss to Shavdatuashvili.
Muki is the reigning European champion in the 73-kilogram weight class. His early victories cheered up the Israeli judo team after a very grim day on Sunday, in which two highly favored judokas – Golan Pollack and Gili Cohen – both lost their first-round matches.
But in the end, Monday was not the day for Israel to win its first Olympic medal since the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Until Monday, Muki had confronted Shavdatuashvili twice, in 2014, and had won both matches. But Muki was coming into the bronze-medal match after a loss, while Shavdatuashvili was coming into it after a win, which may have made the difference.
Shavdatuashvili was definitely sharper. With 1:44 left, he managed to do to Muki what the Israeli had done to his rivals all day – an impressive Ippon, which ended the match with a medal for Georgia and bitter disappointment for Israel. After a day of determined battles, Muki finished in fifth place.