Sherif El Touny Cairo
Former Egyptian judo champion Mohamed Ali Rashwan, famous for his gold-medal bout against Yasuhiro Yamashita at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, has been honored with a prestigious Japanese award.
The 63-year-old on Monday received the Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays (also known as the Sunshine medal) from the Japanese ambassador to Egypt at a ceremony in Cairo attended by president of the Egyptian Judo Federation and Egyptian Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy.
Rashwan is remembered for refraining from targeting his Japanese opponent Yamashita’s injured right calf during the match at the American games, a decision that cost him gold but won him the respect of the sporting world.
Speaking to Arab News, Rashwan thanked the government and people of Japan for the honor and praised the Japanese people for their high morals and constant support for him.
“Winning the Sunshine medal is a great honor. This award is given to famous people such as artists and ambassadors,” he said.
Rashwan was born in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria. His first love was basketball, but he started playing judo after watching a friend fight, and just six months after taking up the sport he won the Alexandria under-18 championship.
For his sportsmanship in the 1984 Olympics final bout, UNESCO issued a statement praising his attitude and rewarding him with its Sport Spirit medal.
“I am the first Egyptian athlete to receive this award,” Rashwan said. “Every year I am invited to visit schools in Japan and meet students, and my story has been incorporated into their pre-school curriculum.
“I was in a lecture once, and the question to the students was: What would you have done if you were in Mohamed Rashwan’s place in the finals of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics?”
He said the answers showed that the students were very interested in his sacrifice.
“The Japanese people welcomed me with all their love and appreciation, and I gave my love and respect to them in return. Japan always thanked me for the stand I took in the 1984 match. When I got sick, a doctor came from Japan to check on my knees and my overall health,” he added.
After becoming a champion in Egypt, Rashwan traveled to then Czechoslovakia in 1975 to participate in his first international championship abroad.
He has since won numerous international medals. In 1980, he won the bronze medal at the World Military Championships in Colorado. In 1982, he collected two gold medals in the heavyweight division which he defended until the 1983 competition.
Rashwan secured a silver medal in the over-95 kg category in the 11th Mediterranean Games in Athens, and earned a total of 31 medals, including 13 golds, at the Open World Championships.
He was also received the Fair Play Award in 1985 and the World’s Best Athlete Award from the International Olympic Committee, in France.
In Egypt, he was honored by former President Hosni Mubarak, twice being given the Republic Award.