Elizaveta Ryandninskaya and Georgii Popov of Russia were the stars of the second day of taekwondo action at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, winning respective golds in the women’s -49kg and men’s -55kg events.
Their double maintained Russia’s perfect record in the taekwondo competition, the opening day of which saw Polina Shcherbakova win women’s -44kg gold and Dimitrii Shishko come out on top in the men’s -48kg.
Ryandninskaya overcame the USA’s Anastasija Zolotic 17-16 in the day’s first final, having recorded 6-5 victories over Vietnam’s Thi Kim Ngan Ho and China’s Zihan Cao en route to the final.
I can’t believe it! Elizaveta Ryandninskaya - Elizaveta Ryandninskaya
“I can’t believe it,” said a delighted Ryandninskaya. “There are so many emotions in my head right now. I always thought I could win the gold because I prepared very hard for it. Russia have got some good taekwondo fighters and coaches and we all help each other to get good results.”
Zihan and Republic of Korea’s Yeji Lee collected bronzes after losing in the semi-finals.
Popov then took his turn to top the podium, after beating Republic of Korea’s Kangmin Kim 33-26 in their gold medal bout. The Russian had earlier seen off Japan’s Hidetaka Maeda 34-13 and Nigeria’s Mahamadou Maharana Amadou’t 33-13.
The two finalists were joined on the podium by Amadou’t and Jordan’s Zaid Mustafa Mahmoud Abdul Kareem, whose run to bronze was inspired by compatriot Ahmad Abughaush’s victory in the men’s -68kg category at Rio 2016.
“I wasn’t really doing it competitively before then,” explained the young Jordanian. “It was just a hobby for me, something which was quite fun. But after Abughaush won in Rio, suddenly I wanted to compete and represent my nation. So I began entering sports centres in the capital, training harder. Because of this, I now actually get to train with Abughaush himself. He mentors me, gives me advice and tips on how to improve.”
Since Abughaush’s moment of glory elevated the profile of the sport in Jordan, taekwondo fighters are now treated as celebrities, with constant round-the-clock media exposure. After winning his bronze, the spotlight on Abdul Kareem back home is only likely to intensify.
“Taekwondo has honestly been taken to a completely new level in the country since Rio,” he said. “It’s inspired everyone. It was an important sport for us before then, but it get so much coverage now. Even when fighters are just preparing for a competition or going to regular training, they’re always on TV, getting interviewed. Everyone knows about taekwondo now in Jordan.”