[By NBC-1TV H. J Yook]18 August 2016; Rio de Janeiro – Day 2 of the Olympic taekwondo competition at the Carioca 3 Arena in Rio’s Barra Olympic Park saw two of the most anticipated weight categories contested, with Great Britain and Jordan seizing gold.
And sportive history was written – twice. Taekwondo delivered Jordan its first ever Olympic medal, in any sport, at any Olympics, ever. It also gave Iran its first-ever female Olympic medal in any sport.
In the women -57kg category, gold wen to Jade Jones of Great Britain, silver went to Eva Calvo Gomez of Spain and bronzes were won by Egypt’s Hedaya Wahba and Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin. In the men -68kg category, gold went to Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan, silver to Alexey Denisenko of Russia and bronzes to Joel Gonzalez Bonilla of Spain and Daehoon Lee of South Korea.
The women -57kg category has been dubbed “The Great Rivalry” as it features one of the great rivalries of the sport – that between number one seed and defending Olympic champ Jade Jones of Great Britain and number two seed Eva Calvo Gomez of Spain. As if written in the stars both athletes fought through the preliminaries to take their rivalry to the very pinnacle of taekwondo – the final of the Olympic Games.
The highly anticipated men’s -68kg category has been dubbed “Star Wars” for good reason: It contains some of taekwondo’s most famed fighters. There were some upsets, but after the smoke had cleared it was fourth seeded Alexey Denisenko of Russia , the bronze medalist in London 2012, who faced off against Jordan’s Abughaush. While Denisenko is highly experienced and was widely seen as a medal prospect pre-Rio, Abughaush was an astonishing surprise: The 10th seed had earlier blazed his way through the division in a series of scorching fights, showcasing a spectacular, unorthodox and entertaining style of taekwondo.
Women -57kg Category
This was it. The category final was the match everyone had wanted to see: Number one seed Jade Jones and defending Olympic champion of Great Britain versus number two seed Eva Calvo Gomez of Spain. These two know each other’s game inside out. Combat started with the two fighting for the center of the mat, Jones looking more aggressive and stabbing at the taller Spaniard with her jackhammer side kick. The Briton scored first with a head kick for a three-point lead then, seconds later, doubled that. The Spanish coach called a video replay – the points stood. Calvo Gomez stared the second round at a furious pace, taking two points with body kicks, but Jones fired back and took another point, 7-2. The Spaniard grabbed one more point, then she rocked Jones with a head kick, taking the board to 6-7. In the third, both fighter racked up points but with Jones always ahead. The Welsh warrior scored another head kick, widening her lead to 11 points, then 15 to Calvo Gomez’s 7 points. There was drama when Jones appeared to land to the face – but the video replay jury ruled that it had not. Even so, she continued to extend her lead to the closing buzzer, winning decisively with a score of 16-7. With a second Olympic gold, Jones, clearly delighted ran off the mats and dragged her coach, Paul Green up to the pitch. She then ran a lap of honor around the arena, with British and Welsh flags streaming behind her.
“I know I am the best, but in taekwondo, anything can happen,” Jones said, referring to the upsets in yesterday’s competition. “But it is still surreal to win – after London, it was not a fluke!” She noted that the journey to Rio 2016 was harder than to London in 2012 as “I was just a little kid” in 2012. Asked her future plans – where does one go after winning two Olympic golds? - she responded that she needs a break, but added, “I am only 23 - and taekwondo is my life.”
In the first repechage contest, Raheleh Asemani of Belgium, seeded ninth, defeated 16th seed Naima Bakkal of Morocco, 12-0. In the second repechage, Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin of Iran defeated Phannapa Harnsujin of Thailand, 14-10.
The first bronze-medal match pitted Belgium’s Asemani against Egypt’s Hedaya Wahba. Asemani’s road to Rio has been longer and harder than most: She departed her native Iran and sought asylum in Belgium, which granted her citizenship. The two fighters proved very, very closely matched and despite a high work rate, all three rounds ended with the scoreboard empty. Wahba finally ended it with a round kick to the body, then celebrated with a cartwheel on the field of play.
The second bronze match saw Iran’s Ailzadeh Zenoorin take on Sweden’s Nikita Glasnovic. The Iranian asserted her dominance early and extended it with a head kick that drew roars from the crowd. The Swede, despite firing off countless kicks, was unable to find the range and Alizadeh Zenoorin – accompanied by a closing-second countdown from the crowd – won a rather one-sided contest. She fell to the floor and kissing the field of play, then embraced her coach and posed for photos with the crowd.
Men -68kg Category
Russia’s Denisenko, the category’s fourth seed, is one of the smartest, best prepared fighters in taekwondo: He has a wide arsenal and the ability to dismantle his opponent’s game. The unheralded Abughaush, seeded tenth, had delighted the crowd all day with his speedy footwork, punch-kick combinations and flamboyant flying kicks. It would be a battle of contrasting styles.
The match started fast with Abughaush exploding across the mats in a flurry of spinning kicks while Denisenko defended cannily. Both fighters then settled down and the first round ended scoreless. In Round 2 the Jordanian opened the scoring with a one-point lead. Denisenko turned up the pressure, trying to force him off the mats. Abughaush’s footwork came into play, and he escaped by virtually running around Denisenko. The Russian tried an aerial attack of his own, a jump side kick, but did not follow through. The round ended 1-0 to Abughaush. In the third, stabbing forward, the Jordanian added another point and the Russian returned fire with a serial one-two round kick to the body, scoring his first point. A side kick as Denisenko feinted forward took the Jordanian’s score to 3-1. An impossible jumping round kick that is surely in no taekwondo textbook – fired by Abughaush while he was retreating from a charging Denisenko – took the board up to 7-2, then 10-2. With 32 second left, Denisenko went into all-out attack, trying to force his opponent of the mats, but the Jordanian was un-fazed by this blitzkrieg – even when Denisenko upped the ante with his own flying kick. Abughaush was briefly forced right off the mats, but ended it 10-6 – a historic win. As he hugged his coach on the field of play, the Jordanian delegation went ballistic.
“It was unbelievable to win the first medal in the history of Jordan,” Abughaush, who had to delay the press conference to take a call from the royal family, said. “It was great to hear the national anthem of Jordan in front of the whole world.”
Asked about his unorthodox style, he said, “I had a plan for each game, but certain kicks were improvised – they came out in the moment!”
In the first men’s repechage, Servet “The Cheetah” Tazegul - the London 2012 Olympic champion and number five seed, was defeated by 13th seed Edgar Contreras of Venezuela in golden point after a 4-4 tie. In the second men’s repechage, South Korea’s second-seeded Daehoon Lee defeated Egypt’s Ahmed Ghofran, the seventh seed, 14-6.
The first bronze medal match saw sixth seed Joel Gonzalez Bonilla of Spain take on Venezuela’s Contreras. The Spaniard, like Tazegul, has previously won gold in London 2012 (albeit in a lower weight class.) Round 1 ended with no score. Gonzalez Bonilla drew first blood in the second – but Contreras equalized almost immediately. Things heated up in the third after the Spaniard landed a round kick to the Venezuelan’s head. Contreras returned fire with a body kick taking it 4-2, then 4-3, but Gonzalez Bonilla held out and took the bronze, 4-3.
The second bronze match was a scorcher: it saw top seed Jaouad Achab of Belgium take on Daehoon Lee of South Korea, the number two seed. Achab looked the more dangerous from the start, firing a triple round-kick combo, and ringing up a three-point lead on the board in with a round kick to Lee’s head. In the second, Lee returned fire with an out-of-nowhere head kick of his own, then drew ahead with a body kick, 4-3, before Achab equalized 4-4. There was everything to fight for in the third. Both players shook hands, then - game on! The Belgian took a 5-4 lead; action intensified as Lee went on the attack. As the match counted down, the Korean landed an ax kick to go 7-5 up - then another head kick for 10-5. Achab want all out with a flurry of kicks, but despite forcing Lee off the mats, and calling a video-replay request with just four seconds left on the clock, it was Lee who won the bronze, 11-4. Still, it had been a match that can only enhance the reputation of both fighters.
Medals were handed out by Spanish IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, and Aicha Ali, IOC member and WTF Council member from Djibouti.
Battle recommences at Carioca Arena 3 tomorrow, when the women’s -67kg and the men -80kg categories are contested. The taekwondo competition in Rio consists of 128 athletes in eight male and eight female categories, each of 16 players, representing 63 NOCs.
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