Or “Ori” Sasson is a heavyweight judoka who is a beloved national figure in Israel. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he won a bronze medal — Israel’s 9th Olympic medal, ever. He’s returning to compete in the Tokyo Games, coming off a year where he came in third on Israel’s “Masked Singer” (he competed as a falafel, natch). Here are 18 things to know about Israeli Olympian Ori Sasson:
1. Ori Sasson was born on August 18, 1990 in Jerusalem, Israel. (He’s a Leo, like so many other Jewish Olympians.) In case you were wondering, he’s 6 foot 4 inches, and 265 pounds. A big dude!!
2. His family is of Kurdish Jewish descent. Watch this very wholesome video of him dancing a Kurdish dance in Jerusalem in 2016.
3. His older brother, Alon Sasson, is also a judoka. “From an early age Alon was the Israeli champion in judo and a model for me to emulate,” he recalls. “As a child, I saw him win and I wanted to feel what it’s like to be an athlete like him.” Ori started training when he was 8 years old.
4. In 2007, at age 17, he won the Israeli championship for the first time — he would go on to win it seven more times. He has a black belt in Judo.
5. In 2011, at his first Judo World Cup — taking place in Uzbekistan — Iranian Javad Mahjoub was slated to face him, but refused, citing a “gut infection.” It would not be the first time Sasson would deal with opponents bringing their politics onto the mat.
6. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sasson fought Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby in the Round of 32 and won. After the match, El Shehaby refused to shake his hand.
Israel-Egypt ties never been closer, but Egyptian judoka still won't shake hand of victorious Israeli opponent. pic.twitter.com/89YDZhoTFA
— Anshel Pfeffer אנשיל פפר (@AnshelPfeffer) August 12, 2016
“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he’s not my friend,” El Shehaby said.
7. In Rio, Sasson went on to win bronze in the men’s +100 kg division (the heavyweight division). At the games, he won one of two medals for Israel. The other was also won by a judoka — Yarden Gerbi won bronze in the women’s 63 kg division. In total, Israel has only won nine Olympic medals in its history — four of them in judo.
8. Sasson and Gerbi returned to a “hero’s welcome” in Israel. As JTA wrote, “Gerbi and Sasson have become instant national heroes and helped establish judo as Israel’s unofficial national sport.” After the Olympics, he went on to win gold medals in numerous Grand Prix competitions — in Tashkent in 2017, Tel Aviv and Budapest in 2019, and Tel Aviv in 2020.
9. He gave a Ted Talk in 2017 about how “a sensitive guy became an Olympic fighter.” It’s in English, and really worth the watch:
He talks about journaling, accepting his feelings, and how “I can be a sensitive guy, but still maintain focus without letting my emotions control me.”
“My feelings are natural,” he reminds himself.
10. In 2021, like so many of us, he proudly posted a photo of him getting his COVID-19 vaccine.
He also recorded PSAs to get tested and wear masks. We have to stan!
11. After the Rio Olympics, Sasson auctioned off his jacket to raise $100,000 for children with disabilities. “A minute before I handed over the jacket, when it was still in my hands, I thought about whether I would miss having it,” Sasson said. “But then I thought about all of the good it would do and realized that it has reached its ultimate purpose.”
12. He competed on Israel’s version of “The Masked Singer.” His costume? A falafel pita!! He came in third!!
Look at this joy!
13. In 2017, after losing a championship match in a fight in Morocco, he went to visit the last active synagogue in Marrakesh. A mensch!
14. He has a tattoo on his inner arm that reads “fear is only a state of mind.” You can see it in this photo:
15. His Instagram is full of thirst traps (I mean, have you seen him), but also very wholesome posts, like lighting the menorah on Hanukkah:
16. He attended Ruppin College in Israel, where he studied business administration.
17. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (taking place in 2021… we don’t know why they didn’t rename them, either), he will be competing alongside five other Israeli male judokas — but none in the heavyweight division. For the first time, there will be a team Judo event. Sasson will compete alongside Sagi Muki and Baruch Shmailov.
18. Which means Sasson has the opportunity to medal in two different events. Good luck, Ori!!
Bonus: A custom Ori Sasson trading card!