Saeid Mollaei was a refugee looked after by the global judo community
At the 2019 World Judo Championship in Tokyo, Japan Iranian Judoka Saeid Mollaei came face to face with the hardest decision of his life. At the time, Mollaei was the defending World Champion at -81kg. Then, Iranian authorities pressured him to withdraw from the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo to avoid the possibility of (a highly anticipated match up) Mollaei facing Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki in the finals. Mollaei, ignored the demands from the Iranian authorities but lost in the semifinals due to the stress such demands placed on him. He finished fifth and Sagi Muke of Israel took home the gold medal.
President of Iran’s Olympic Committee, Salehi Amiri, denied all accusations of any threats to Saeid Mollaei or his family. The IJF continued to move forward and suspended the Iranian Federation from competing in all international competitions. The Iranian Federation has appealed their suspension.
Fearing for his life, Saeid Mollaei fled to Europe with a two-year visa from Germany. It was here during his time in Germany when Saeid Mollaei crossed paths with World and double Olympic Medalist Richard Trautman of Germany. The two immediately developed a strong coach to player relationship.
Already an Olympic and world medallist but he listens always and wants to be better than yesterday; this is his real strength
In December of 2019, Mollaei was offered citizenship from then Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, which he accepted. For about the next three years, Mollaei would brand the Mongolian Flag winning the Silver Medal at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Two years later, in March of 2022 Richard Trautman accepted the position as Head Coach of the Azerbaijan Judo team. Shortly thereafter, in May of 2022, Trautman was joined by a World and Olympic Champion, none other than Saeid Mollaei. Trautman had this to say of Mollaei, “he was happy to work with me and it all seemed logical. He’s really an amazing athlete, already an Olympic and world medallist but he listens always and wants to be better than yesterday; this is his real strength.” Then, this led to what was dubbed as “the Fight For Freedom” at the 2022 Budapest Grand Slam where friends Saeid Mollaei and Sagi Muki faced off, 3 years later.
My work was to make him confident in this style. I can’t lie and say I have taught him to do these new things.
The connection between Trautman and Mollaei continued to grow. At the 2023 Antalya Grand Slam, we saw a different side to the judo of Mollaei. In the past, we have been mesmerized with his wrestling style. However, in Turkey, we found Mollaei upright in posture using the core principles of judo; controlling the distance, creating reactions for his opponents, and an exceptional understanding and feeling of timing his throws.
Trautman continued to say, “My work was to make him confident in this style. I can’t lie and say I have taught him to do these new things. I’ve just worked with him so he really understands that although he is always close to the body, from a distance he is also not bad. This was always existing in his judo. I give him ideas for how to prepare the situations and how to enter for these techniques. We work on the situations in which to apply classic attacks.”
Saied Mollaei delivered clean, intelligent, and confident judo throughout Antalya. Taking the silver medal home with him. He has a clear goal in mind, the 2024 Paris Games. And he will have Coach Trautman by his side.