Bradly Sinden produced a stunning final-round fightback to guarantee at least a silver medal in the men’s -68kg taekwondo competition.
Sinden’s success followed a shock first-round loss for double defending champion Jade Jones whose hopes of becoming the first British woman to win golds at three consecutive Games were ended in a 16-12 defeat to Refugee Team athlete Kimia Alizadeh.
Sinden, who won the world title in Manchester in 2019, had cruised through his two opening contests, compiling a total of 92 points in wins over New Zealand’s Tom Burns and Hakan Recber of Turkey.
Zhao, who won Olympic gold in the lighter -58kg category in Rio and also has two world titles to his name, was certain to put up sterner opposition and so it proved as he edged the opening stages.
Sinden’s hopes of making the final in his first Games appeared to hang by a thread as a pair of big head kicks put his Chinese opponent in full control.
But the Briton stayed focused and pounced as Zhao tired in the final minute of the contest, pouring forward to secure a gold medal match against Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Rashitov later on Sunday.
Earlier Jones, 28, who had ended a long wait for her first world title in 2019, led early against Alizadeh but could not make her advantage count and fell to a disappointing defeat.
For an opening bout it was as tough as they come against Alizadeh, who became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze in Rio behind Jones.
Alizadeh, also a two-time world medallist who beat Jones in the 2015 event in Russia, subsequently left her homeland to train in Germany, a decision which led to a period of inactivity that meant she was not seeded in the women’s -57kg category.
Any hopes Jones may have had of challenging for a bronze medal via the repechage were ended when Alizadeh was subsequently beaten in her semi-final match by Tatiana Minina of Russia.