Briton Lutalo Muhammad missed out on a Taekwondo gold in agonising fashion on Friday night, when the last kick of an immensely tight final saw the medal go his Ivorian opponent, leaving him to settle for silver.
Muhammad seemed to be destined to add to another extraordinary Friday night of British success by leading in the bout, potentially bringing a rich sense of personal vindication in the face of questions about his selection.
But the 22-year-old Cheick Sallah Cissé delivered a spinning kick literally in the last second of the bout to seal the Ivory Coast’s first Olympic medal of any description and leave the 25-year-old desolate. The silver was a huge and unexpected achievement for Muhammad in the -80kg category, though having beaten off a tough field to reach the final he was the favourite in the final. Not delivering a repeat of Jade Jones' Thursday night gold may take some days to become accustomed to.
The final opened tensely with no breakthrough until a minute and a half into the first round when a spinning kick to the Ivorian’s trunk put the Briton ahead. But 22-year-old Cisse struck back with a similarly targeted kick in the second round, which earned the fighter three points. The two also traded successful kicks to the same area, which left them locked at 4-4.
Then Muhammad went ahead once again with a kick to Cisse’s chest. The two were locked in grabbed holds, neither wanting to sacrifice the chance of gold by attacking in a way which would leave them open to a counter-kick.
The Londoner seemed to have made the big break-through by removing his opponent’s helmet but despite using one of his two video replays to establish he had delivered a kick to the African fighter’s head, it was established he had not. The scores moved to 6-5 to Muhammad with just a single seconds left. Then came decisive kick which sent Cisse – the Ivory Coast’s first medal winner of any description – racing away to the crowd in jubilation. The margins between success and failure in this sport are fine.
Muhammad’s emotions reflected his struggles of the past four years. He received hate mail when he was selected or the London 2012 British team over the world number one Aaron Cook. British-born Cook changed nationalities to Moldovia, whom he represented in this competition.
He has vindicated his selection here, though. While Cook bombed out in the first round Muhammad progressed through a tough draw, defeating the US six-time world champion Steven Lopez in the quarter finals and then the Azeri Milad Beigi Harchegani, who had put out the Iranian favourite Mahdi Khodabakhshi.
Harchegani’s demolition of Lopez in the bronze medal fight revealed what an achievement the Briton’s semi-final had been. That fight left Muhammad just a point ahead as the fight entered its last ten second but he struck twice with kicks to seal victory. A second close fight proved too much.
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