Iran’s Asghar Aziziaghdam and Uzbekistan’s Guljonoy Naimova shine on last day of Para Taekwondo as fighters from around the world electrified international audiences.
CHIBA, Japan (September 4, 2021) - The international medal party continued in Para Taekwondo as Paralympic medals went to four new nations to bring the total to 17 countries with an Olympic medal, including Paralympic champions from six different nations.
Iran’s Asghar Aziziaghdam became the first Paralympic champion from Iran after topping many of the best fighters in the +75 kg category on his way to the gold medal.
In the beautiful display of talent in the final against Croatia’s Ivan Mikulic, the 2013 and 2014 world champion was forced to battle back from an early deficit. He then had to turn back a furious rally from 2015 world champ and score a late kick to capture a dramatic Paralympic title 12-10.
“I’m so happy right now – I think I could fly!”, he said after winning his medal. “I never give up. I compete to the last second. I was just lucky to connect on him.”
Naimova, too, had to overcome the +58 kg category’s top fighters on her way to becoming the first Paralympic champion from Uzbekistan.
She romped through the first three rounds, which included wins over Great Britain’s 2017 world champion Amy Truesdale and 2019 world championship bronze medalist and hometown favourite Shoko Ota of Japan, to set up a gold medal match against Brazil’s Debora Menezes.
A strategic affair in the final saw Naimova capture her first international title in style by beating the reigning world champion 8-4 to become the +58 kg category’s first Paralympic champion.
"Recently we celebrated the Independence Day of Uzbekistan and I wanted to congratulate my country by winning Paralympic gold", she said. "I am so happy right now."
Australia’s Watson, USA’s Medell Highlight Bronze Medal Winners
Top-seeded players in both divisions fell at the semi-final stage, with Truesdale losing 60-14 to Naimova and the USA’s Evan Medell dropping a 28-9 decision to Mikulic.
Both fighters rebounded to make sure they didn’t leave Tokyo emptyhanded.
Truesdale beat Iran’s Rayeheh Shahab 41-31 to capture +58 kg bronze, while Medell edged Costa Rica’s Alfred Molina 13-11 for +75 kg bronze.
Medell became the fifth athlete from the Americas to win a medal in Tokyo, following athletes from Peru, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.
“I’m disappointed for sure”, the No. 1-ranked Medell said after collecting his medal. “But I finished with a win, so I’m happy – I’m in a good mood.”
Australia’s Janine Watson, already a world champion in Poomsae, captured a memorable Paralympic bronze in her final international tournament by beating Ukraine’s Yuliya Lypetska.
"It's very, very rare to have both a world champion in Poomsae and a Paralympic [medal]", she said. "I don't think many Olympic champions also have a Poomsae world championship - I'd like to see some Olympic champions try to do some Poomsae patterns."
Zainutdin Ataev of RPC beat Mexico’s Francisco Pedroza to capture the other +75 kg bronze. The 2013 world champion gave the team its third bronze medal of the tournament.
Global Appeal on Display
Showcasing the sport’s global appeal, athletes from 17 different countries representing every continental association won a medal at Para Taekwondo’s Paralympic debut.
Led by Paralympic champion Nathan Torquato, Brazil led the way with a medal of every colour. Brazil did not have a dedicated Para Taekwondo programme until 2017.
The sport demonstrated that athletes from literally anywhere in the world can compete at a high level, with memorable appearances from the Refugee Team’s Parfait Hakizimana and Azerbaijan’s Zakia Khodadadi.
Congratulations go to the sport’s first ever Paralympic champions: Peru’s Angelica Espinosa, Brazil’s Nathan Torquato, Denmark’s Lisa Gjessing, Mexico’s Juan Diego Garcia Lopez, Uzbekistan’s Guljonoy Naimova, and Iran’s Asghar Aziziaghdam.
-- Lee Reaney