If ever there was a sport designed for that sporting cliche about snatching defeat from victory then it’s taekwondo.
World champion Bradly Sinden looked to be heading for Team GB’s first gold of the Games but instead leaves Tokyo with a silver – and a gilt-edged story of what might have been.
Taekwondo sees fighters flail away at each other all arms and legs, picking up points for kicks to the body or, even better, the head. Doing it while spinning... extra points.
Some adopt the “float like a butterfly” approach, dancing deftly around the mat and picking off points to build a winning advantage. Sinden prefers just to sting like a bee – fury, feet and fists from buzzer to buzzer, his leg extending improbably like Inspector Gadget.
En route to the final he scored 53, 39 and 33 points – the three highest scores by anyone all day.
However, against Uzbekistan teenager Ulugbek Rashitov he came up against a cagey rival and twice found himself seven points down, only to seize back marginal control.
With just eight seconds remaining he was leading by two but eight seconds in taekwondo is an age – just ask Sinden’s teammate Lutalo Muhammad, who looked like he’d banked gold five years ago only to lose on the buzzer. Clock-watching in this game can be lethal.
“The feeling right now is just disappointment, it was my gold medal to give away and it’s a hard one to take,” said Sinden.
“It’s gutting and hard when you get silver, when you win gold or bronze you get to celebrate that moment.
“I’ll reflect on this and be proud of what I’ve achieved in these last five years, from having no ranking points to becoming world champion and winning an Olympic silver.
“But this was my gold medal here; obviously he is a good fighter, I just made a few mistakes. I think I got unlucky with a few things as well but that is taekwondo. I knew what time was left and I thought I was controlling it well but he reacted well and caught me.
“I thought he was on the back foot. You have to commend him for what he did – a few mistakes from me and he’s the Olympic champion.”
Sinden’s journey to Tokyo began at his first club session, aged just four.
He was just nine when Sarah Stevenson, until now Doncaster’s most famous Olympian, won bronze in Beijing and made his junior international debut when she read the athletes’ oath at London 2012.
He’ll be 25 in Paris, where he has quickly recalibrated targets to seek a gold medal upgrade. However, in Rashitov he has a worthy adversary for that journey; seeded 17 at the start of the day, he beat the world No 1 and 2 to take his gold medal.
“Sometimes you learn more from defeats and I’ll be taking that learning curve into Paris and hopefully I can go one better.”
There are five British taekwondo fighters in Tokyo and all were considered medal contenders, though perhaps none more so than Jade Jones.
Jones was the first of four British women here seeking to make history by winning gold medals in three consecutive Games; rower Helen Glover, equestrian Charlotte Dujardin and cyclist Laura Kenny will take their chances in days to come.
She has only experienced the highs of this rollercoaster – now she knows all about its crushing low too.
In addition to her golds at London and Rio, Jones even won the Youth Olympic title in 2010 – a decade-long domination of the world stage for the 28-year old.
However, she was left stunned and in tears as Kimia Alizadeh of the Refugee Olympic Team pulled off a shock victory. Alizadeh, who won bronze five years ago, hasn’t competed at international level since 2018 after fleeing her native Iran.
She later lost her semi-final with Tatiana Minina, ending Jones’s hopes of a bronze medal fight in the repechage.
Alizadeh had beaten Jones twice before, including at the world championships in 2015, but her long period away from the sport made the Welsh fighter an odds-on favourite.
“I’m absolutely gutted, it’s not how I planned the day to go and I’m just really frustrated with myself,” she said.
“I wasn’t the best so I just have to take it on the chin and congratulate the other girl.
“It was a tough draw and I didn’t know who I was going to be fighting until two hours before, but no excuses.
“Obviously it’s easy to say ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ but champions adapt and I didn’t.
“It’s going to take a while for the emotions to sink in so I’ll probably take a bit of time out and work out what happens next. I’m not committing to anything right now.”
Jones’s Olympic journey may be at its end; Sinden’s, though, is just beginning.
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