Sergiu Toma claimed the UAE’s second-ever Olympic medal and first since 2004 with a heroic journey to a historic bronze in the under-81kg judo at the Rio Games on Tuesday night.
The only other UAE Olympic medal came in 2004 when Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum took double trap gold in Athens.
Toma’s exploits at the Carioca Arena 2 in Rio on Tuesday have added to the nation’s history at the Olympics and he was in tears as he celebrated a hard-fought victory in the bronze-medal match.
“Since 2013, we’ve been meticulously planning for this moment,” Naser Al Tamimi, the secretary general of the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Kick Boxing Federation told Sport360°. “We’ve been nervous each day, and every single moment and it really is an indescribable feeling.
“The most important thing is that we achieved our goal and that we’ve managed to bring happiness to all UAE people.”
Sergiu Toma takes 81kg judo bronze, winning the UAE just a second Olympic medal in history and first since 2004 pic.twitter.com/XHTcicXWKd— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) August 9, 2016
The 29-year-old, originally from Moldova but a naturalised Emirati since 2013, took out Germany’s Sven Maresch in his opening bout, before overcoming Brazilian ex-world No1 Victor Penalber followed by victory over reigning Japan’s world champion Nagase Takanori en route to the semi-finals.
Toma lost to eventual gold medallist Khasan Khalmurzaev of Russia in the semis but triumphed over Italian Matteo Marconcini to capture the bronze medal with a sumi-gaeshi for ippon.
“This is the result of huge effort we’ve been putting in at the federation for a long time,” Mohamed bin Thaaloob Al Derei, the president of the UAE federation, told Abu Dhabi Sports channel.
“We have professional staff that is of very high level and have organised lots of world-class events.
“This achievement is credit to the federation, to the ministry of sport, to the UAE Olympic Committee, to every athlete who has worked hard.
“It is an achievement that brings happiness to all of us, to all Arabs and all Emiratis. Hopefully it’s just the start.
“Our goal is to create role models for our young Emiratis to look up to, so when they see there is an Olympic medallist from the UAE, they can get motivated to try and do the same.”
Khalmurzaev maintained his perfect record this year by taking gold yesterday.
The Russian has won all 20 bouts he’s had in 2016, taking his victory streak to 23 in total.
He beat American Travis Stevens in the final with an inner leg throw for a perfect ippon score.
Toma’s medal was the first by an Arab country this week at the Rio Olympics.
The UAE has another shot at a medal through another naturalised Moldovan, Ivan Remarenco, who takes part in the -100kg action on Thursday, opening his campaign against Algeria’s Lyes Bouyakoub.