Jordan’s first ever Olympic champion Ahmad Abughaush looks forward to Tokyo 2020
Ahmad Abughaush may be only 22 years old, but he is already arguably the most famous Jordanian athlete of all time. At the Olympic Games Rio 2016, 10th seed Ahmad fought through four thrilling taekwondo rounds – including defeating both the London 2012 champion and the second seed – to claim the -68kg category gold medal. It was Jordan’s first Olympic medal in any sport. Back in Jordan, we caught up with the smiling fighter to hear what impact his gold has had on his homeland, how his daily life has changed and why his coach does not let him have free reign in restaurants.
Did you always believe you could be the first Jordanian to win an Olympic medal?
When I got to Rio I believed I could reach the top of the podium. It was a goal but everyone around me said: “You can get a medal, but the gold is so difficult to get.” But I showed them it was possible.
What has been the coolest thing you have done since you became Olympic champion?
I was interviewed a lot on TV and on radio – in Jordan and outside Jordan. I have been to Qatar and the UAE to do interviews. And in 2017 the women’s [football] World Cup trophy came to Jordan and I carried it around in the stadium, showing it to the crowd. And I was invited to the match and to see the women’s national team training beforehand. But my favourite thing has been setting an example for the young people here in Jordan. Many people have taken up taekwondo since [the gold medal win]. I have become their role model, and not just for taekwondo athletes but for everyone in every sport. That is the best thing.
How popular is taekwondo in Jordan now?
Taekwondo is the most popular individual sport in Jordan. There are 100,000 taekwondo athletes – after the Rio Olympics around 30,000 people took up the sport and 16 new clubs opened in Jordan. It makes me very proud. This is the best thing that has happened after my success.
Has all of this made it harder for you to live a normal life in Jordan?
Everyone comes up to me in the street. Now when I go to the mall, to the shops, everyone knows me and they come over to take some pictures with me. So, now I don’t go out as much as I used to before. But it’s no problem. My friends help a lot.
Jordan’s royal family has long been involved in sport – what was their reaction to your victory?
After I won my gold medal I went to the Royal Palace. I met King Abdullah and Queen Rania. The King told me he was very proud of what I achieved for Jordan and said I was one of the best in history. Our federation president is Prince Rashid, so I met him and his wife. She is the leader of our Olympic preparation programme now. I see her almost every day at training. And I got a lot of support from Prince Rashid before the Olympics – he was providing all the funding.
So many people look up to you as a role model, but who is your idol?
I love [Lionel] Messi. His dedication to achieve his goals, his talent. He is the best. I am a Barcelona and an Argentina fan. We lost to the champions in the  World Cup. I watch a lot of football on TV. Football is easily the most popular team sport in Jordan. Most people support teams from Spain, either Real Madrid or Barcelona. There is a big rivalry.
Do you play?
Yes. I am a good footballer. I play with my friends, 11-a-side every two weeks. I am a playmaker. I have got quick feet and I am quick and strong. Currently we have taekwondo competitions every month, so there is no free time. But I also play football video games with my friends. I am always Barcelona.
As an athlete, what are your biggest strengths?
Everyone says it is my technique, my movement and my side kick. Not only in Jordan but all around the world, my technique and style inspire many people. Many people send me messages on Instagram and Facebook from all over the world telling me.
What are your ambitions in taekwondo?
I want to be the best taekwondo fighter ever, from anywhere in the world. I want to win another gold medal. I was the first Jordanian to win an Olympic medal; I hope I can become the first Jordanian to win two Olympic medals. The Olympic Games were like a dream. Before Rio, I had heard what they said about the Olympic Games, but when I got there it was something different. Seeing all the top athletes all around me in the Village or competing or getting medals, it is just the best. My goal is to be on the podium and to get the gold again [in Tokyo in 2020]. I am in good form.
And what are your ambitions in life?
I want all my life to be about taekwondo. When I finish, coaching and administration maybe. I am studying sports education at Jordan University. I want to achieve the best for Jordan.
Finally, if your rivals for gold in Tokyo came to visit you in Jordan, where would you take them?
I would take them to the sea, to Petra, to Jerash, the Roman theatre, the citadel. It’s a very beautiful, amazing country. And I would feed them mansaf – traditional food, rice with yoghurt and meat. I am only allowed to eat it twice a month, not every day sadly.