Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Ruth Gbagbi: The feisty fighter with 'no limits'

Gbagbi has been consistently improving since her Olympic bronze medal in Taekwondo at Rio 2016, and now has an arsenal of moves to help her challenge for gold at Tokyo 2020. 
By Courtney Hill

Ruth Gbagbi knows exactly what she wants.

The Ivorian taekwondo athlete wants to become the first woman from her country to win an Olympic gold medal in any sport.

A weaponry of innovative moves could be the key to success for her at Tokyo 2020.

Philippe Bouedo, a sport's veteran and World Taekwondo's Education Committee Chairman, has praised Gbagbi's strength and creativity, saying she "has a full palette of techniques."

Bouedo believes that the Tokyo hopeful represents the 'exciting' aspect of taekwondo perfectly, which is something he wants more viewers to see.

"In championships, some players minimise risk," he said.

"Not Gbagbi. She has no limits."

And fighting her opponent with nothing holding her back is exactly how she wants it to be.

"I am a fighter," said Gbagbi.

"The more difficult it is, the more I like it."

Instincts helped secure Grand Prix win

The 27-year-old has already qualified for Tokyo 2020 on the back of winning gold in the final of the Women’s -67kg at the Sofia Grand Prix in 2019; and she did it in some style, too.

Up against Lauren Williams from Great Britain, dubbed the 'most ferocious fighter in the female division', Gbagbi had to be on the top of her game to secure the top spot.

After Williams had already taken a 5-0 lead, she backed Gbagbi closer and closer to the edge of the mats, to which she responded by pulling out the most unexpected of moves.

Out of nowhere, already falling to the ground as Williams came at her, Gbagbi dispatched a reverse turning kick which saw both feet lift off the ground as her foot connected with her opponent's head guard; and suddenly the comeback was on.

A well fought contest between the two over the course of three rounds - in what some spectators said was 'the best female fight they had ever seen' - saw Gbagbi come out on top, winning 25-20 and beating the two-time European Champion.

The incredible move that could have been the difference between winning and losing was purely done on 'instinct', according to the Ivorian.

"I did not plan it.

"When the action came, I reacted in that way. I did not really practise it."

In the footsteps of Cheick Sallah Cisse

Prior to making her Olympic debut, Gbagbi secured a bronze medal at the 2011 Maputo African Games in the -57kg.

London 2012 was not quite the same story, however. She was ultimately eliminated in the preliminary rounds by Kyung-Seon Hwang; the eventual gold medallist of the Games.

Preparations for Rio 2016 came with a big win for Gbagbi, claiming her first ever gold in the 2015 Brazzaville African Games, this time in the -62kg bracket.

She went on to beat Farida Azizova at the Games to secure a podium finish in third place, collecting an Olympic bronze.

After competing in Rio, Gbagbi picked up three further gold medals including a 2017 World Championship title in -62kg, and -57kg golds at the 2017 Moscow and 2019 Sofia Grand Prix events.

She also maintained form in the African Championships, picking up another two gold medals with her most recent being early June 2021 as she begins working towards her third Olympic Games.

With a golden run-up to Tokyo 2020, Gbagbi will be looking to replicate her formidable 2019 form and become just the second ever Ivorian to win an Olympic gold in Taekwondo; behind Cheick Sallah Cissé.