Gwladys Epangue: ‘A unique moment of sharing’

Now the co-chair of the French National Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, Gwladys Epangue won Olympic women’s taekwondo bronze in the 67kg category at Beijing 2008. A two-time world champion who also appeared at Athens 2004 and Rio 2016, Epangue recalls the excitement she felt at the Closing Ceremony of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in the Chinese capital.

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“One of the two biggest regrets of my career – the other was never winning Olympic gold in my career – is that I wasn’t able to take part in the opening ceremonies in Athens, Beijing and Rio. The taekwondo events are always scheduled for the end of the programme, which means me and my fellow taekwondo athletes only arrived in the second week. I was there in front of the TV every time, watching my team-mates in the parade. I’d see them sharing a unique moment that not everyone gets to enjoy and I’d think of them a lot.

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“That said, I do have some emotional memories of the Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Games. All the French met up in the stands at the stadium before the ceremony, and we were laughing, congratulating each other and belting out the Marseillaise. Then we went down to the track to party with athletes from all over the world. We thoroughly enjoyed that last night of the Olympics. It was a moment of sheer joy because everyone was relaxed. The competitions were over and we just let our hair down.

“We walked into the Olympic Stadium, united as one in a team, and I said to myself, ‘Wow! I’m walking on the track where Usain Bolt achieved all his amazing feats.” Athletes from all over the world were mingling together. We went and looked for the other taekwondo athletes first of all and we were so happy when we tracked them down.

“The whole taekwondo family was in the stadium. I was looking for Steven Lopez of the USA, the Iranian fighter, my Italian friend Veronica Calabrese and the British too. We each knew what we’d all been through to get there. We shared our thoughts and told each other how happy we were. We were so pleased to be there. It was an incredible and unique moment.

Even superstars catch Olympic fever

“The amazing thing is that all the people who’d been up on a podium walked into the stadium with their medals around their necks. We tried to guess what sports they did, based on how big they looked!

“We also went on the hunt for photos, looking out for Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Kobe Bryant. And there they were, right in front of you. It was really amazing. There they were, the superstars of world sport, looking so happy and really soaking up the occasion. They were so happy and proud to have won an Olympic medal.

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“It was an amazing moment of unity. The whole world was there in the stadium to share the moment, and my first thought was that I just had to live it and enjoy it. Sport was at the very centre of the world at that moment in time. And everyone kept saying, ‘See you in four years’, even though we didn’t even know each other and no one knew if they’d ever be back at the Olympics.

“There was a real buzz in the stadium. We were like kids, running about everywhere and looking up in wonder at the huge fireworks display that brought the ceremony to a close. I’ll never forget the evening of 24 August 2008.”