Golden girls from three continents enjoy Nanjing limelight
Wongpattanakit in a class of her own
The first final of the Nanjing 2014 taekwondo competition, on 17 August pitted Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanaki against Azerbaijan’s Ceren Ozbek, with the -44kg gold medal at stake. It went to the 17-year-old from Bangkok, who outclassed her opponent to win 21-1.
The bronze medals were claimed by Chinese Taipei’s Chen Zih-Ting and Great Britain’s Abigail Jones, the 2014 world junior -42kg champion, who went down to a surprise semi-final defeat to Ozbek.
“There is nothing that compares to an Olympic or Youth Olympic gold,” Wongpattanakit said. “It is the absolute pinnacle in my sport and I am honoured to represent the youth of my country here in Nanjing. The biggest thing for me is the people who came to cheer for me. I am glad I could win the gold for them.”
The 15-year-old Ozbek, Azerbaijan’s first ever Olympic taekwondo medallist, was quick to put her final defeat behind her: “Second place is good for me and I think there is more to come.”
Huang hangs tough
Chinese Taipei enjoyed a day to remember on 18 August as Huang Huai-Hsuan won the women’s -49kg title and compatriot Huang Yu-Jen, who is no relation, took the men’s -55kg crown.
Watched by IOC President Thomas Bach and his predecessor Jacques Rogge, Huang Huai-Hsuan beat Belgium’s Indra Craen to the gold, exacting revenge for her defeat to the Belgian in the YOG qualifying competition earlier this year.
“It was not an easy fight. I have lost to the Belgian previously so I knew I was going to have a tough final,” the 17-year-old said.
The day’s bronze medals went to Zhan Tian Rui of China and Mitzi Yemaima Carrillo Osorio of Mexico.
Babic bounces back
Having recovered from an injury that had put her participation at Nanjing 2014 in serious doubt, Croatia’s Ivana Babic completed a remarkable turnaround in her fortunes by winning the women’s -55kg competition on 19 August.
“I don’t know how I did it,” said Babic after defeating Turkey’s Fatma Saridogan in the final. “I got injured at the World [Junior] Championships [in March]. I broke my leg. I could not train for two months and was able to really train normally only for two, three weeks.”
The tall Croatian made use of her height to hold off her opponents in the quarter-final and the semi, but found the elusive Saridogan, a bronze medallist at this year’s World Junior Championships, an altogether different proposition, with the bout only being settled by a second-round penalty.
Russia’s Tatiana Kudashova and Belgium’s Laura Roebben completed the podium.
Zenoorin keeps her head
On 20 August, Alizadeh Zenoorin of Iran kept her head to claim the gold in the women’s -63kg category, scoring a hard-fought 10-7 win over Russia’s Yulia Turutina.
“Recently, we [Iran] have had women world champions and medallists, so it is good news for all the girls who are practising taekwondo,” commented a delighted Zenoorin, who took the lead in the first round of the final and never relinquished it.
Responding to her defeat, the obdurate Turutina said: “It was not quite enough for me today, but this medal still is my most important achievement so far.”
The 17-year-old Zenoorin beat the best in reaching the final, overcoming Croatia’s -63kg world junior champion Matea Jelic in the last eight and China’s +68kg world junior champion Zhang Chen in the semis.
Sharing the bronze medals with Zhang was Colombia’s Debbie Natalia Yopasa Gomez, with Jelic going home empty-handed.
Yount strikes back
The last final of the women’s taekwondo competition in Nanjing on 21 August was a repeat of the deciding bout of the YOG qualifying competition in March, with USA’s Kendall Yount taking on Uzbekistan’s Umida Abdullaeva for the +63kg gold medal.
Beaten 4-3 by Abdullaeva in their first meeting this year, Yount got her revenge in another close battle, scoring with a head kick in the final round to secure a 4-2 win.
“I was so excited. I was so honoured. I was so proud. There are a million emotions, but all of them are positive,” said the 16-year-old champion. “The final was amazing. She [Abdullaeva] did so well. There were a lot of close shots.
“In the end it was a big kick that decided the match. I’m glad that I got it in. My dad got me into taekwondo because he thought it was a great sport for discipline and respect, and I fell in love with it in my first class.”
Though she had the consolation of winning her country’s first Olympic taekwondo medal, Abdullaeva was disappointed not to take the ultimate prize: “I am upset with myself. I lost, that means I made mistakes in my training. I wanted to bring home this gold medal so much for my country and my mum.”
Yount’s success was made all the sweeter by the fact she beat Ukraine’s world junior -68kg champion Yuliia Miiuts in the semi-finals. Joining the Ukrainian on the last step of the podium was Li Chen of China.