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.
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 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.
Victorious judoka Sergiu Toma, born in Moldova but given citizenship by the UAE three years ago, dedicated it to the people of the Emirates for supporting him on his journey to the podium.
“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.”
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.
Khalmurzaev maintained his perfect record this year by taking gold in the event.
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 at the Rio Olympics.