Isaev and Zheng grab final taekwondo golds
Radik Isaev won the first taekwondo gold for Azerbaijan in men’s +80kg, while Chinese fighter Zheng Shuyin beat experienced Mexican Maria del Rosario Espinoza in the women’s +67kg final.
Isaev, a world champion in the -87kg category, faced Niger's Abdoulrazak Issoufou Alfaga in the men's +80kg final. The bout started slowly with no score in the first round, but Isaev mastered a head-kick in round two and another in round three to win 6-2.
“I didn’t think about the gold at all, I just wanted to fight for a medal and not come for nothing. So I went through to the final. Each fight was hard, psychologically and physically. We waited long for this medal and we all worked hard for it,” Isaev described the journey to Azerbaijan’s first taekwondo gold.
Issoufou Alfaga’s silver is only the second medal for Niger in the history of the Olympic Games, the first one dating back to 1972 when Issaka Dabore won bronze in boxing. He said of his historic achievement and other African athletes’ taekwondo success in Rio: “My objective was to bring a second medal to my country. The Olympic Games is very, very hard, I was not sleeping at night because I was thinking of the gold medal. We young Africans were able to prove that we are capable of doing something nobody believed in. We got five medals, that is really great.”
To the delight of the home crowd, Brazil’s Maicon Siqueira earned bronze, the second Olympic medal in taekwondo for the country. Also Beijing 2008 champion Cha Dongmin of the Republic of Korea returned to the Olympic podium with a bronze medal.
Zheng overcomes Beijing champion Espinoza
China's Zheng Shuyin won gold in the women's +67 kg category. The world silver medallist in -73kg was up against the experienced two-time Olympic medallist Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico. The tall Zheng used her height to distance her opponent and controlled the match to win 5-1.
“I am very tall and my legs are longer than the legs of my opponents,” Olympic champion Zhen discussed her fighting strategy. “So when I attack, opponents can quickly get a counter-attack in and I can lose points. I have fought with these opponents many times. They know my strengths and how to defend themselves. I had to change my strategy a bit. I was tired, but the opponent was also tired. Given my condition I think I did very well today.”
Silver medallist Espinoza now has a complete set of Olympic medals with her gold from Beijing 2008 and the bronze from London 2012. World champion Bianca Walkden of Great Britain succumbed to Zhen in the semi-finals, but recovered to take bronze. The other bronze medal went to Jackie Galloway of the United States.