PARIS, France (Sept 2, 2023) - It was a day for Asia on the second day of the Paris 2023 World Taekwondo Grand Prix as Uzbekistan, China and Iran won the three gold medals available.
Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Rashitov showed why he is Olympic Champion as he built on the gold he won at the Roma 2023 World Taekwondo Grand Prix to win gold again here in Paris in the men-68kg. China’s Mengyu Zhang won her first Grand Prix gold since 2018 as she overcame her compatriot Jie Song in the women -67kg. Iran’s Mehran Barkhordari came into the tournament having won one Grand Prix silver in his career but upgraded that to his first ever gold in Paris in the men-80kg.
Former UN Secretary General and current IOC Ethics Commission Chair Ban-ki Moon was in attendance at the finals and presented medals in the women -67kg.
Rashitov and Brazil’s Edival Pontes contested the first final of the night. Both fighters started the fight on the front foot, focused on trying to find gaps in the other’s defence. Rashitov opened the scoring with a strong punch. A counter from Rashitov gave him a 4-0 lead. Gam-jeoms from both fighters saw the round end 5-1 in the Uzbek’s favour. In the second round an early counter push kick gave Rashitov a 2-0 lead. He followed it up quickly with a chop kick to the head which forced Pontes to the ground and gave the Uzbek a 6-0 lead. A spinning kick followed by a kick to the body saw the Olympic champion take a 13-0 lead. Pontes fought valiantly to get back into the match but recognised he did not have enough on the night and applauded Rashitov on his victory in the dying seconds. It is the Brazilian’s first Grand Prix silver.
Rashitov faced Croatia’s Mark Golubic in the semi-final. Rashitov looked comfortable in the first round. He faced a scare in the second but overcame it in exciting fashion to win the match. Pontes came up against Jordan’s Zaid Alhalawani in his semi-final. Pontes won the first round 3-2 and took the second courtesy of a higher number of registrations after it finished 4-4.
In the women-67kg, it was a Chinese final as Zhang faced Song who had won gold at the Roma 2023 Grand Prix. There looked like there was very little between the fighters for the majority of the first round. With 15 seconds remaining Song landed two head kicks to take a 6-0 lead. Zhang retaliated with a head kick of her own but lost the round 6-3. In winning the round Song picked up an injury which forced her to withdraw and Zhang took the gold.
Song fought France’s World Champion Magda Wiet Henin in the semi final. Despite the enthusiastic support from the home crowd, Wiet Henin she couldn’t find an answer to Song’s dominance and Son won 2-0. Zhang came up against Korea’s former youth World Champion Hyo Rim Hong in the second of the semi finals. Zhang followed Song’s lead in winning her semi-final 2-0.
Barkhordari faced Greece’s Apostolos Telikostoglou in the final of the men -80kg. Neither fighter wasted any time in trying to land points. Barkhordari fired a kick to the body which Telikostoglou returned with a counter to the head. A quick fire punch from Barkhordari brought the scores level at 3-3. Telikostoglou extended his lead again with a kick to the body but once again Barkhordari immediately countered to even the scores 5-5. A gam-jeom for Telikostoglou gave the Iranian a one point lead which he extended with a kick to the body to win the round 8-6. In the second round a slower start sprung into life in the last minute with Barkhordari landing a head kick and two strong kicks to the body. A head kick from Telikostoglou brought him back into the match with the score at 7-3. The Greek followed up with a kick to the body. With less than 10 seconds left he managed to land a turning kick to win the round 9-7.Barkhordari shook off the disappointment of the second round to take the lead with a punch in the third. Another two punches extended his lead to 3-0. The Iranian showed no signs of looking back as he landed two head kicks to take a 9-0 lead. A final head kick confirmed his gold as he won 12-0. Telikostoglou’s silver medal is his first medal at the Grand Prix.
Telikostoglou had been drawn against Türkiye’s Muhammed Emin Yildiz on the way to the final. The Greek won the first round but Yildiz delivered a commanding 12-4 performance in the second round. With both athletes tiring in the third, Telikostoglou won the round 6-0. The second semi final didn’t go to three rounds but was no less exciting. Barkhordari fought USA’s silver medallist from the World Championships, Carl Alan Nickolas. With both fighters showcasing their power it was Barkhordari who came out on top winning 2-0.