The referee calls the remaining eight finalists to the field of play to battle it out at Tuesday’s taekwondo Kyorugi event at the Chengdu FISU World University Games.
The delegations of Thailand, Iran and China took home the four fiercely contested gold medals, with each athlete having his own inspiring story to tell.
Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion, had a very good reason to smile after beating Merve Diincel from Türkiye in the women’s 49kg event.
“At the last world championships, Merve and I were also fighting in the final together, with the better ending for her,” Wongpattanakit recalls about the event held in Baku, Azerbaijan in June. “But this time, I won and I’m just very happy.”
The Thai star not only made history by winning the country’s first Olympic gold in her sport, but also etched her name in the FISU record book by claiming her third FISU Games title after her triumphs in 2015 and 2017.
Fighting a tough battle for the title in the men’s 59kg event was Alireza Hosseinpour from Iran, leaving only the silver medal for his contender Amirbek Turaev from Uzbekistan.
“I worked and trained very hard to get here,” Hosseinpour, a 20-year-old student at Iranian Shomal University, said. “I am still very young, so I hope that in the future I will have more successes like this one.”
His coach, proudly standing next to his athlete in a post-event interview, emphasized the high level of performance on the grounds of Wanjian Campus Gymnasium.
“The final was very difficult,” he said. “Every competitor was performing really good and I am just very happy Alireza achieved this result.”
In the last two finals, the women’s 67kg and men’s 80kg, the nearly full house witnessed a Chinese demonstration of power.
Under the pressure of performing in front of her home crowd, Song Jie, a Chengdu local, and Zhang Kai claimed gold after exhilarating fights against theirZhang Kai (China) and Shukhrat Salaev (Uzbekistan) in men’s 80kg opponents from Türkiye and Uzbekistan.
“I was very motivated by the enthusiasm of the spectators,” said Song, a student at the Beijing Sport University. “While I was on the field though, I just concentrated on every move I made.”
For Zhang, originally just aiming for a podium, the animated crowd might have even been the decisive factor in making it to the final round.
“In the last set of the semi-final, my physical fitness dropped a lot, but because the crowd kept cheering for me, I gained a lot of energy.”
But what about the drowning pressure of competing in front of his home crowd?
“There must be some pressure, but I need to turn that pressure into motivation, to believe in my dream,” Zhang states with the certainty of a world-class athlete.
“Keu man.” The referee ends the third and final round of the last fight of the day.
Zhang’s first reaction? Throwing away his helmet and taking over the “People’s Republic of China” entry sign to run a lap of honour.
His second reaction? Hugging his coach, in utter disbelief about this success, and embracing their close relationship for a solid minute on the field of play.
“My coach’s encouragement sometimes doesn’t translate into words,” Zhang said about the advice he got during the competition. “A look or a gesture and I know what he means.”
By Annika Saunus, FISU Young Reporter