Tazegül’s taekwondo glory ends Turkey’s gold drought

Tazegül’s taekwondo glory ends Turkey’s gold drought

Tazegül’s taekwondo glory ends Turkey’s gold drought

Servet Tazegül waves the Turkish flag as he celebrates after winning the gold medal in men’s 68-kg taekwondo competition. Tazegül was one of Turkey’s biggest medal hopes since he has come to London with world and European titles under his belt. AP Photo

Servet Tazegül spared Turkey’s blushes and won the country’s first gold medal with just three days left at the Olympic Games in London.

World number one Tazegül beat Iran’s Mohammad Bagheri Motamed 6-5 in a close men’s 68kg taekwondo final at London’s Excel Arena on Aug. 9.

The win gave Turkey its first gold medal of the Games and was also the country’s first ever victory in taekwondo. Turkey had previously taken home two silver and two bronze medals in the sport, with Tazegül himself taking home a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. “I have worked for this since 2008 when I missed the final and won the bronze medal. I’ve reached my goal,” he said.

The 23-year old was among Turkey’s biggest gold-medal hopes, coming to the Games with double European titles and a World championship under his belt. However, the build-up to London was not rosy for the German-born Turk, who suffered a wrist injury weeks before the Games. He also lost his mother two months ago.

An emotional Tazegül dedicated the medal to his late mother after his victory. He also thanked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç for their support as well as the Turkish taekwondo community and the Turkish people. “We’ve won no gold medals at these Olympics yet and no Turkish [taekwondo athlete] has ever won an Olympic gold medal so far,” he had said before the final. “I want to make the Turkish people happy for that achievement. I want [it] to be gold, and I want it straight from my heart.”

Tazegül’s gold medal saved Turkey from its worst-ever Olympic performance in almost four decades. Before Tazegül, Turkey’s only medal had come from Rıza Kayaalp, who won the bronze medal in the men’s 120kg Greco-Roman wrestling. The last time Turkey had a worse performance came in 1976, when the country’s athletes finished the Games empty-handed.

On Aug. 9, Tazegül’s speedy footwork seemed to confuse his opponents, many of whom tried to adapt to his high-paced fight style. None succeeded. Tazegül beat Terrence Jennings of the United States, Ukraine’s Hryhorii Husarov and home favorite Martin Stamper of Great Britain before the final. The Turk’s victory over Bagheri was a repeat of the world final a year ago, and the outcome was the same: a one-point victory. The first round was tight and cagey but the bout came alive midway through the second. A flurry of scoring kicks saw Tazegül come out with a 5-3 lead and he held onto that despite a nervy finish in the third, triumphing 6-5. There was one last moment of tension to overcome as Bagheri’s coach made a challenge, hoping to earn his fighter an equalizing point.

He claimed Tazegül had stepped off the mat, which would have earned him a penalty, but following a video replay it was confirmed he had stayed inside and the gold medal was his. The bronze medals went to American Jennings and Afghanistan’s Rohullah Nikpai, who won his country’s first-ever Olympic medal at the Beijing Games – also a bronze. “I’m very happy because this medal is very important for my country,” he said Aug. 9. “Of course, getting a medal is very important to all the countries in the world, but especially for Afghanistan.” Additional reports from AFP and AP were used in this story.