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On Wednesday 10 August 2012 at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London, Joel González Bonilla (ESP) saw off the challenge of Lee Dae-hoon (KOR) in the men’s taekwondo 58kg final, becoming the sport’s first-ever Olympic champion to hail from Spain. At the same time, his compatriot Brigitte Yagüe was earning a silver medal in the women’s 49kg competition, in which China’s Wu Jingyu captured the gold. In a matter of hours. Spain’s total medal count in taekwondo had gone from two to four.
Following their respective medal ceremonies, the two champions “sat down for a chat about our Olympic experiences”, according to González. “I reminded Brigitte what I had told her when we arrived in London: ‘We always win medals when we compete together. Imagine if that happened here!’ And we laughed about it.”
His final on 10 August was a much more serious affair. It brought together two reigning world champions in the shape of Lee Dae-hoon, winner in the 63kg category at the 2011 World Taekwondo Championships in Gyeongju (KOR), and González, who had prevailed in the 58kg there. The Spanish athlete grabbed the bull by the horns from the outset, scoring first and registering three points for an impressive head kick to lead 5-2 at the end of the first round.
González’s fine technique continued to cause problems for his opponent in the second round. In the final round, he produced another powerful head kick that floored the Korean, securing a memorable and relatively trouble-free 17-8 victory. In doing so, he added the Olympic crown to a CV that already included several 58kg gold medals, achieved at the World Championships of 2009 and 2011, and at the European Championships of 2010 and 2012.
González, who was born in the Catalan town of Figueres on 30 September 1989, got his first taste of taekwondo at a young age. “I started about a month after my dad had opened a martial arts centre in our town, because it really interested me,” he explains. “Before that, I was a football fanatic, which didn’t bother my dad, who never tried to push me towards martial arts. It was my own decision.” Pedro González, Joel’s father, would subsequently become his first coach. “And these days, he’s just incredibly happy to see how well I’ve done in taekwondo!” adds González Jr.
After enjoying success at a variety of age categories, the then 17-year-old was invited by the Spanish Taekwondo Federation to attend their national training centre. “That was when the real hard work began – I’d have six to eight hours of training a day,” he says. “Years of intensive preparation followed, as did really competitive tournaments, the European Championships, the Worlds and then the Olympic Games in London.”
In parallel, González continued to study for a degree in criminology, specialising in the battle against various forms of cheating prevalent in the sporting world (betting fraud, match-fixing, etc.). In 2014, he spent some time working in the Spanish Football League’s anti-corruption department. He also fulfils the role of athlete representative on the Spanish National Olympic Committee.
My goal is the Rio Games,” says the Catalan fighter. But it is worth noting that he will not be defending his 58kg title in Brazil. In 2015, he landed a silver medal in the 63kg category at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk (RUS). Later that same year, he again competed in the 68kg at the European Games in Baku (AZE), where he obtained a bronze medal. It was via this heavier category that he subsequently booked his place at the Rio Games, where current world number one Lee Dae-hoon again lies in wait. “I have no intention of going home empty-handed,” González concludes confidently.