RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Aug. 17, 2016) – On the first day of the Olympic taekwondo competition, gold medals went to South Korea and China, silvers to Serbia and Thailand, and bronzes to Azerbaijan, Dominican Republic, Thailand and Korea.
In the women -49kg category, Sohui Kim of South Korea won gold and Tijana Bogdanovic of Serbia won silver, while Patimat Abakarova of Azerbaijan and Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit took home bronzes. In the men -58kg category, Shuai Zhao of China won gold and Tawin Hanprab of Thailand won silver, while Luisito Pie of Dominican Republic and South Korea’s Taehun Kim won bronzes.
With taekwondo’s two lightest weight categories being contested, top stars fell one by one. Pundits around the arena were left stunned as some of the sport’s most famed athletes lost in the first and second rounds.
The crowd in the Carioca Arena 3 in Rio’s Barra Olympic Park generated an electric atmosphere throughout the day. The most prominent guest was IOC President Thomas Bach, who visited for the finals and was introduced to Chinese star athlete Jingyu Wu.
Women -49kg Category
Seventh-seeded Sohui Kim of South Korea faced off against eight-seeded Tijana Bogdanovic of Serbia for the gold. Earlier in the day, the Serbian had stunned the taekwondo world by comprehensively defeating arguably the most dominant fighter in taekwondo, China’s double Olympic gold medalist Wu, 17-7. Wu had been gunning for what would have been a record third Olympic taekwondo gold.
As the final got underway, the Serbian with her height advantage forced Kim to dance around the edge of the mats. But it was the Korean who was more accurate with her legs, winning the first round 2-1. The second continued the same, with Kim displaying lively footwork to escape the Serbian’s pressure. Bogdanovic, trying to land a punch, took a crescent kick to the head; the round ended 5-2. In the third, the score was 4-6 to the Korean but Bogdanovic put the pressure on, and Kim visited the mats repeatedly. In the last 11 seconds, Bogdanovic was chasing her target around the mats but Kim held off the desperate last-minute attack, taking match and gold 7-6. It had been a masterly display of lateral footwork and fighting off the back leg by Kim. After the match she said she had “prayed to become a champion” and gave thanks to her family and nation for the support she had received.
The “lucky yellow” uniform pants Team China had adopted did not seem to be working for superstar Wu: She lost the first repechage to Patimat Abakarova of Azerbaijan, 4-3. “I don’t know why!” she replied when asked what was behind her sub-par performance. With plans to have a child next year, her sportive future is uncertain. Asked if she would appear at Tokyo 2020, she said, “Maybe I will go - but maybe not as an athlete.”
In the second repechage, Panipak Wongpattanakit of Thailand took on Peru’s Julissa Diez Canseco, winning 4-2.
The first bronze match pitted France’s Yasmina Aziez against Azerbaijan’s Abakarova. After a lackluster first round, Abakarova moved up a gear and ended the second 3-1. In the third, Aziez went on the attack, but despite her height advantage, could not find the range and the Azerbaijani extended her lead 6-1, then 7-1. The match ended 7-2 to Abakarova.
The second bronze match saw Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit go into battle against Itzel Manjarrez of Mexico. The contest proved to be a carnival of kicks, the Thai using her height advantage and long legs to assert an early 9-0 lead, but the Mexican returned fire with a round kick to the head for 3 points. In a fierce contest of soaring feet, the second finished 11-3 to the Thai. After an action-packed third, the bronze was convincingly won by Wongpattanakit, 15-3.
Men -58kg Category
China’s Shuai Zhao, the eight seed, took on Thailand’s Tawin Hanprab, the 15th seed, for the gold. The match looked uneven from the start, with Zhao towering a full head over the Thai. Zhao landed first, but the Thai, unintimidated, tried to deny the Chinese by closing the distance and shutting down Zhao’s long-range weapons. Zhao, however, kept both his cool and his distance, even scoring with a nifty jump round kick to the trunk, and finished Round 1, 3-0 up. By the end of the second, it was 4-1 to Zhao. In the third, in a flurry of jumps and kicks, Hanprab scored, bringing the board to 4-5. In the last 35 seconds, both men were showing a tremendous work rate, firing kick for kick, with the much shorter but gutsy Thai even forcing Zhao off the field of play. But in the end, the Chinese kept the advantage, taking gold with a 6-4 win. Delighted, he ended with a lap of honor around the mats, flag aloft. “I felt a bit nervous, but followed my coach’s instructions,” he said. “I feel great!”
What he did not know is that Wu had earlier told Chinese reporters, “I hope he gets all my good fortune…I hope he becomes the new leader of Chinese taekwondo.”
Predictions for the eventual winners of this category had been comprehensively overturned. In the preliminaries, the first shock result of the tourney came when Iranian superstar Farzan “The Tsunami” Ashourzadeh Fallah – the number one seed and the man pundits saw as almost unbeatable in this category – lost his first match to 16th-seeded Hajjami Omar. The Moroccan came from behind, 1-3, to end the Iranian’s gold medal hopes with a jump spinning round kick in the final seconds to take the match 4-3. Soon after, number two seed Taehun Kim of Korea was beaten by 15th-seeded Hanprab, 12-10. The Thai looked almost unbelieving at his victory over the widely fancied Korean.
In the first men’s repechage, Spain’s Jesus Tortosa Cabrera defeated Omar Hajjami of Morocco, 4-1. In the second, South Korea’s Kim took on Safwan Khalil of Australia, winning the match 4-1.
The first bronze medal match saw Luisito Pie of the Dominican Republic face off against Spain’s Tortosa Cabrera. The Dominican opened the attack, while the Spaniard played a counter-attack game. Round 1 ended 0-0. The second continued with the Dominican dominating the ring and opening the scoring – including with a nicely timed spin back kick, ending the round 5-0. In the third, the Spaniard tried head kicks and punches – then, in the dying seconds, landed a one-point technique and a spectacular spinning heel kick to the head. The match went to golden point. Pie, however, was not to be denied and finished it with a single point - then delighted the crowd by dancing on the field of play with his flag.
The second bronze match saw Mexico’s Carlos Navarro Valdez go in against South Korea’s Taehun Kim. Both refused to give ground, fighting for the center of the mats and trading kick for kick, but the first round ended scoreless. In the second, Kim scored with a flicking round kick to the head, ending the round 3-0 up. Kim extended his lead with three body kicks in the third, 6-0. In the final, Navarro Valdez went for broke, firing off a series of machine-gun head kicks and back kicks, but Kim took the match – and the bronze – 7-5, after a very closely contested match.
‘A Festival of Fight’
Medals were handed out by IOC Member Nicole Hoevertsz from Aruba – whose country had taken part in the Olympic taekwondo competition for the first time that day, in the person of Monica Pimentel Rodriguez who fought in the Women -49kg. WTF President Chungwon Choue and Oceania Taekwondo Union President John Kotsifas handed out gifts at the ceremony.
The WTF Demonstration Team and a local drum team performed during the intervals, and rock music blared across the stadium. For the first time, athletes in the finals were allowed to choose their own march-on music. In another first, nations were allowed to customize the pants of the dobok, or taekwondo uniform. China wore yellow, Spain boasted an elegant crimson and red stripe number, and Iran black with the national colors down the left leg.
Battle recommences at Carioca Arena 3 tomorrow, when the women’s -57kg and the men’s -68kg 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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