Heartache for South Korea as Olympics jinx follows top-ranked Lee
CHIBA, Japan—Top-ranked taekwondo champion Lee Dae-hoon lost in the first match of his final Olympics on Sunday, dashing South Korea’s best hope for a gold medal in the national sport it once dominated.
Lee has won a trove of gold medals including three world championships and a record 12 Grands Prix, but the Olympic trophy has eluded him. He won silver in London 2012 and bronze in Rio four years later.
“It’s my last Olympics so I wish I could have done better,” he said. “I was well in my body and mind but my management of the fight could have been better; I was successful at the beginning but then I felt rushed.”
A 29-year-old father of a toddler, Lee said nerves also got in the way on the Olympic stage. South Korea has won a record 12 Olympic gold medals in taekwondo but no longer dominates the sport, which has athletes from 61 countries and territories, plus the Refugee Olympic Team, represented in Tokyo.
“Since the Olympic Games are really big, maybe I felt more pressure.”
Popular in the taekwondo circle – he has won the peer-voted “Player of the Year” award more times than any other athlete – Lee said he was satisfied as an athlete, even as he wished for a different result as he prepares to retire.
His loss on Sunday, to Uzbek Ulugbek Rashitov, ranked 17th in the world, added another upset to a tournament loaded with surprises since it kicked off on Saturday.
Tied at the end of the three two-minutes rounds, Lee conceded a body kick to Rashitov in the “golden round”, where the first to score automatically wins. As an ecstatic Rashitov jumped up and down pumping his fists, Lee crouched onto his hands and knees, head on mat.
The South Korean has a chance to return in the repechage stage if his Uzbek opponent advances to the finals.
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