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Iranian injury sparks medal dispute
First day of Youth Olympic Games in Singapore marred by spat between Iran and Israel.
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010 08:01 GMT
Haimovitz celebrates the semi-final win that effectively handed him gold [GALLO/GETTY] 

Politics threatened to overshadow the inaugural Youth Olympic Games after an Iranian athlete cited injury before withdrawing from the boys taekwondo final against an Israeli athlete on the first full day of competition.

The Iranian delegation said Mohammad Soleimani aggravated an injury and was taken to a hospital for treatment, meaning he was unable to face Israel's Gili Haimovitz or attend the medal ceremony late on Sunday.

Some Israeli officials said they expected Iran to refuse to compete and that the withdrawal was politically motivated.

But one International Olympic Committee member from Israel said the injury was genuine – albeit managed so that Soleimani would not have to listen to the Israeli anthem on the podium.

The Iranian delegation had been so far unavailable for comment.

Daniel Oren, head of the Israeli delegation, said he was thrilled at the gold medal but expressed frustration that the victory was not earned in the final.

"When Gili won the semi-final, we knew the Iranian was making the final," he said.

"Already, we knew that the Iranians would not come.

"This is their system. On the one hand, we got the gold medal. It's very exciting for us. On the other hand, we would prefer winning by competing."

Haimovitz said he was happy to have won gold.

'No politics'

"Actually, I don't want to get into politics or that kind of thing," the 17-year-old said.

"I was ready for a fight. If he came out or not, I don't care."

"They put him in an ambulance so at least they would not create a crisis that would have demanded further action. So it looks like everything is okay"

Alex Gilady, Israeli IOC member

An Iranian official did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The World Taekwondo Federation confirmed Haimovitz's victory.

When contacted by the Associated Press news agency, the federation spokesman denied that there was a political motive for the withdrawal.

Alex Gilady, an IOC member from Israel who handed out the medals for the competition, said it was a tactic by Iran to avoid violation of Olympic rules.

"Once he (Soleimani) was injured, that meant he still would win the silver...have to stand on the podium and listen to the Israeli anthem and see the Israeli flag over the Iranian flag," Gilady said.

"They put him in an ambulance so at least they would not create a crisis that would have demanded further action. So it looks like everything is okay."

Iran in the past has stated that its policy is to withdraw from competing against Israel because it does not recognise the country.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Iranian Arash Miresmaeili – a two-time world judo champion – refused to compete against Israel's Ehud Vaks in the opening round of the 66kg competition.

Solidarity

He said his decision was to show solidarity for the Palestinian cause.

Haimovitz's victory was Israel's first gold medal of the Games, a 12–day event which will feature 3,600 athletes ages 14 to 18 from 204 National Olympic Committees competing in 26 sports across Singapore.

Youth Olympics organizers have sought to emphasize the educational and cultural benefits of bringing together teenage athletes from around the world, so they are not keeping a medal tally.

In an unofficial tally, Russia led with six followed by China with four and the United States with three after the first day of competition.

Source:
AP
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