Arash Miresmaeili of Iran, a two-time world judo champion and a medal contender in the 66-kilogram class, deliberately forfeited his first-round match because his opponent, Ehud Vaks, committed the unpardonable sin of being Israeli.
Though Israeli athletes have become accustomed to such contempt from Muslim competitors at international competitions, never before had an Israeli been so humiliated at the Olympics.
"Although I have trained for months and now enjoy an in-form build," Miresmaeili told Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), "I have refused to face my Israeli rival in sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people."
These are the same "oppressed Palestinian people" who commit genocide against innocent Israelis - and against themselves - by engaging in suicide bombings that viciously maim those who aren't killed.
Official Iran greeted Miresmaeili's decision warmly and enthusiastically. Iran's ambassador to Greece, Mehdi Mohtashami, congratulated Miresmaeili on his "courageous move to refuse to compete with a judoka from the Zionist regime," he told IRNA. "Certainly, (the) Iranian nation considers Miresmaeili as the real champion of (the) 2004 Olympic Games."
The chief of Iran's Olympic delegation, Nassrollah Sajadi, asked the government to give Miresmaeili the $115,000 reward reserved for gold medallists.
President Mohammed Khatami, the so-called moderate, was most exuberant. In a message to Iranian athletic officials, Khatami said that Miresmaeili's decision "in protest to the massacre of Palestinian people by the Zionist regime will be recorded in the history of Iranian glories," IRNA reported.
Miresmaeili's insolence offers another example of how totalitarian regimes manipulate athletics and athletes to promote geopolitical agendas.
For the 1936 Summer Olympics, Hitler spared no effort to turn Berlin into a modern Potemkin Village that would impress tourists and allay their fears of Germany's ultimate intentions.
"We must be more charming than the Parisians, more easy going than the Viennese, more vivacious than the Romans, more cosmopolitan than London and more practical than New York," stated the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff almost a month before the Olympics.
Defusing suspicion belonged to a more comprehensive strategy.
"The 4 million Berliners," wrote Richard Mandell in his book, The Nazi Olympics, "had constant instruction from above that they had been entrusted with an obligation to demonstrate the excellence of German National Socialism to the whole world."
Wage and price controls kept meals and accommodations cheap. Official interpreters roamed the streets. Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels threw lavish parties for dignitaries.
The Nazis even dramatically downplayed their anti-Semitism. The government removed anti-Semitic signs and publications. The German Olympic committee reinstated a partially Jewish athlete: Helene Mayer, a world fencing champion and a 1932 Olympian who was expelled from her athletic club in 1933 for having a Jewish father.
"Jew-baiting had been ordered to cease from the highest quarters," Mandell wrote. "Evidence of persistent racialism might be, and was, interpreted as vestigial rough edges of a superceded policy."
The result? As Mandell wrote, "almost no one escaped the impression that the new Germans were working hard, were playing hard, were at peace and would stay that way."
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its allies considered athletes as valuable as soldiers or diplomats during the Cold War because victorious athletes demonstrated the superiority of Communism to the world.
As chairman of the USSR Committee of Physical Culture and Sport, Sergei Pavlov said in 1976 that sports is "another sphere, another criterion for evaluating the advantages of the Soviet political system."
As mentioned in the Front Page Magazine article, "Free Play," world-class athletes thus had to become "Soviet patriots" with a "high Communist consciousness." An interview in the newspaper Sovietsky Sport during the 1980 Winter Olympics with Lyuba Baranova, a Soviet cross-country skier, illustrates the intensity of that indoctrination:
"'I mentally transferred myself to the siege of Leningrad from the first day to the last' . When the skiing got difficult, Lyuba remembered the blockade of the city on the Neva and said to herself, 'For the Motherland, Lyuba! For Leningrad!'"
Miresmaeili's devotion to Ramallah, as it were, was so intense that he exceeded the weight limit for his class - unusual for a two-time world champion accustomed to years of disciplined training. Franklin Foer wrote in the Wall Street Journal that before Miresmaeili's match, "he seems to have binged on food, stuffing himself to the point that he no longer fit his weight class, earning an automatic disqualification."
Did Miresmaeili initiate his forfeiture or did he receive orders from Iran's government? The latter seems more likely. Iran broke diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1979 revolution, and Miresmaeili could have been arrested and imprisoned had he tacitly recognized Israel's existence by competing against one of its athletes.
In addition, the effusive praise and suggestions of monetary compensation from official quarters came on the same day Miresmaeili was to compete. Moreover, Miresmaeili became the focus of attention during the opening ceremonies by carrying Iran's flag. NBC's Bob Costas and Katie Couric reported that rumors abounded about Miresmaeili's possible forfeiture. Perhaps the mullahs wanted to make him a positive example for their anti-Semitic cause.
But what if Miresmaeili made this decision on his own? That would be an even greater indictment of Iran's political culture, one that supports the Palestinian characterization of Jews in school texts as pigs and monkeys.
Regardless, Miresmaeili's action did not just slap the face of one Israeli athlete. It slapped the faces of all free men who oppose Islamic terror, who wish to live in liberty and peace.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy stood in a pocket of liberty and declared that all free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. Given Iran's brutal regime and support for Islamic terror, all free men - wherever they may live - are Israeli Olympians today.
Therefore, just as Kennedy did then, I take pride as a free man in these words:
I am an Israeli Olympian.