Taekwondo: Judges do Stevenson's head in but she fights back for bronze
Sunday 24 August 2008
Wincing in agony from a busted ankle and tearful through a mixture of raging injustice and sheer relief, Sarah Stevenson finally earned herself the elusive Olympic taekwondo medal she has craved since her Games debut as a teenager in Sydney eight years ago.
The fact that the 25-year-old will leave China with a bronze and not a gold, "or even a shot at one", will rankle for years after a controversy-laden, roller-coaster day for both Stevenson and the home nation's hot favourite, Chen Zhong.
But Stevenson's immediate reaction to Britain's first medal in her sport was mostly positive. "I've come away with a medal so I'm happy," she said after a 5-1 victory over Egypt's Noha Abd Rabo in an eventual bronze medal match. She added that it had been a day of "ups and downs". That is some understatement.
In an act of "blatant robbery", as Stevenson described it, the Doncaster kicker was initially denied an over-67kg quarter-final win over Chen because the judges did not credit her with two vital points she deserved for a late sweeping blow to Chen's head. That would have made the score 2-1 to Stevenson.
Instead, after conferring, the four judges did not award the points, making Chen, seeking a third straight Olympic gold in the event, the 1-0 victor. Astonishingly even the partisan crowd booed the perceived home bias. The British team immediately lodged an appeal.
Stevenson at this point said the result had "definitely" been "a home decision" and "blatant robbery". Half an hour later, the World Taekwondo Federation announced, incredibly, that the appeal had succeeded. That was unprecedented. The result was overturned in favour of Team GB. Stevenson was in a semi-final, but a confused and angry crowd at the USTB Gymnasium, having accepted that Chen was through, reacted with uproar.
Stevenson, unprepared for a bout she was not expecting, then lost 4-1 to Mexico's Maria Espinoza against a backdrop of boos. Instead of progressing to a golden opportunity of a final, Stevenson went instead to a bronze match against Abd Rabo. Despite an ankle injury, sustained in the loss to Espinoza and so severe that Stevenson could not walk properly, she beat the North African easily to land her medal. Espinoza went on to win gold.
Stevenson said of the judges' decision not to award the points against Chen: "It was blatantly robbing me of getting into the semi-finals.
"It's one thing I hate about this sport that the judges can control people's lives like this, take points away and do whatever they want.
"It wasn't just that point," Stevenson added. "She got warnings for going back the whole fight and attacked just once and that's the only time she scored. She's twice Olympic champion but she's definitely not better than me."
Gary Hall, Britain's performance director, later praised the sportsmanship of the Chinese. "It was very sporting of the Chinese team to say it wasn't right and it needed overturning. Them agreeing to it was the right thing to do and you have to take your hat off to Chen Zhong.
"She's been Olympic champion twice and she gave up the slot like that. She knew clearly because she was the one who felt the kick in the head. It was a non-debatable decision and it was very clear."
Of her loss in her semi-final, Stevenson said: "I didn't fight very well. I didn't have enough time to prepare because I didn't expect to fight. My mind and body weren't ready. I've beaten that girl twice.
"I thought my next fight was going to be in the repechage and I was focused on that. I have done so much mental preparation, but I just blew it. That [reinstatement] just messed my whole game up in terms of tactics."
If Stevenson thought she had it bad, there was more drama to come when a Cuban athlete and his coach were banned for life after Angel Matos kicked the referee in the face following his bronze-medal match disqualification.
Cuban coach Leudis Gonzalez offered no apology for Matos's actions during the over-80kg match. Matos was winning 3-2 in the second-round match when he fell to the mat after being hit by his opponent, Kazakhstan's Arman Chilmanov.
He was sitting awaiting medical attention when he was disqualified for taking too much time. Fighters get 60 seconds and Matos was disqualified when his time ran out.
Matos questioned the call, pushed a judge, then pushed and kicked the referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden. Matos then spat on the floor and had to be escorted out.
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