Puebla 2013 Day 5: Cuba makes double as Gabon wins first ever gold
Cuba won 2 out of the 3 gold medals of Puebla 2013 fifth day of competition thanks to Glenhis Hernández (CUB) win over In-Jong Lee (KOR) in the Women’s -73 kg final and Rafael Castillos victory against Zhao Yong Ma in the Men’s -87 kg crucial fight. The other but not less important winner of the day was Anthony Obame from Gabon, who after giving his country its first Olympic medal ever at London 2012, completed an extraordinay progression by clinchin the Men’s +87 kg title in front of Sajjad Mardani from Iran to lift Gabon’s first Taekwondo world title and Africa’s 3rd after Daba Modibo Keita (Mali) double in 2007 and 2009.
With these results, Korea stays in front of the medal race with 4 golds, 2 silvers and 1 bronze, followed now by Cuba, with 2 golds and 1 bronze, and Russia and Iran, with 1 gold and 2 silvers each.
The First Women’s -73 kg Semi-final of the day confronted the Olympic athlete Glenhis Hernández (CUB) and the Canadian outsider Jasmine Vokey. Hernandez started to take control of the fight from the very beginning, scoring the 2 first points through a right leg back kick, while Vokey seemed to be waiting for the right time to attack. And she waited too long, as the only point scored in the second was achieved by the Cuban, who displayed a much more active performance. In the last round, Hernandez finally found Vokey’s head with her right leg and only allowed the Canadian to score 1 point thanks to a kyong go that was penalized in the last seconds of the fight. 7-1 for Cuba and first gold medal chance confirmed.
The second finalist of the division was In-Jong Lee (KOR), who clearly beat the Swedish Casandra Ikonen by 7-3 to reach her country’s sixth final in the event. The first period finished with a low 1-0 for Lee, who started to raise her attacking skills in the second round, which she started with an explosive left head kick to move the score to 4-0. Two more quick left chest kicks and 6-0 to end the second period. Ikonen never had a chance to comeback from such a long distance, but managed to inaugurate her scoreboard with 3 points, 1 through a chest kick and 2 more due to Lee’s penalties.
The second Cuban fighter to reach a Final was Rafael Castillo, who defeated Yassine Trabelsi from Tunisia by 9-3 in the Men’s -87 kg Semi-final. Castillo proved himself as the best athlete on the tatami since the first period, even though it finished with a close 2-1. The second round was also dominated by the Cuban, but it wasn’t until the very last second that Castillo found the way to score, as he connected an unexpected right head kick that was unsuccessfully appealed by the Tunisian coach. 5-1, a 4 point lead that seemed to be enough for Castillo, who controlled Trabelsi’s all head kick attempts to finish it 9-3.
Castillo’s opponent in the big Final ended up being the Chinese Zhao Yong Ma, who needed the extra time to get rid of Radik Isaev from Azerbaijan and his extremely long legs. The fight finished with only 2-2 in the scoreboard due to Ma’s impressive defensive skills and Isaev’s low accuracy when going for the Chinese head through his powerful left head kick. It could have been different if the Chinese coach hadn’t successfully appealed a 3 point action awarded to the Azerbaijani, but the video replay showed everyone present at Puebla’s Exhibition Center that Isaev was grabbing Ma’s protector when he completed the kick. In the extra time, Ma needed only 3 seconds to score the Sudden Death Point thanks a to an accurate right chest kick, just miles of a second before Isaev reached his.
The first Men’s Heavy (+87 kg) Semi wasn’t finally played, as Trajkovic (SLO) didn’t show up on the tatami to face the Olympic silver medallist, the Gabonese Anthony Obame, who gained his access to the final without waisting any energy, a fact that could be decisive in the final.
Would Cuba place its 3rd athlete in the Finals? All predictions led to it, but the Iranian Sajjad Mardani didn’t allow it to happen, as he beat London 2012’s bronze medallist Robelis Despaigne in a thrilling match that needed the sudden death period to be defined. Iranians are well known for its solid and almost unbreakable defense, and Mardani is not an exception. He almost controlled all Despaigne’s attacks, allowing the Cuban to connect only 4 chest kicks throughout the combat. And it was him who made the most spectacular action of the fight, finding Robelis’ head with his right leg after the Cuban had tried to determine the match with a similar action. 4-4 and time for a sudden death point, which was scored by the Iranian when 1 minute had already gone. He tried hard to connect a chest kick, and at the third attempt, Despaigne couldn’t dodge his right leg. The second Iranian in a Final was already a reality.
The Cuban fighter Glenhis Hernández got over her upset at London 2012 Olympics after winning her first World Title and Cuban’s first gold medal in Puebla. Hernández had to work really hard to find a crack on In-Jong Lee’s (KOR) defense, which she finally did in the last 10 seconds of the fight with one of the cleanest and more accurate head kicks of the event so far. Until then, the scoreboard reflected a 1-1 tie, as both athletes felt the pressure of their first big final in an International event. Lee had her chances, as she led 1-0 until there were only 17 seconds on the clock, but had to content with the silver, clinching Korea’s 7th medal in Mexico.
Cuban party was set, Puebla’s Exhibition Center had turned into Havana’s biggest Sports Arena, and Rafael Castillo took advantage of it. He defeated the Chinese Ma by 4-2 in a really exciting match full of smart video replay appeals by the Chinese coach, who helped his athlete staying on the match until the very last second. The first period was purely an examination of the opponent’s strengths, so no points were scored. Castillo broke the ice with an outstanding head kick at the beginning of the second period, which was followed by a successful video replay appeal from Ma’s coach, that turned a 6-0 into a 3-0. His coach’s help seemed to give Ma wings, as he reacted rapidly with a powerful back kick that put him closer to the victory (3-2). But Castillo couldn’t let the spectators down, so he connected a chest kick to put the 4-2 on the scoreboard and almost defined the fight in the last seconds with a head kick, but the Chinese coach did effectively use the video replay request again. Back to 4-2, but not enough time to come back for Ma. Cuba had just won its second gold of the Day.
And the Taekwondo party at the Exhibition Center wasn’t over. Anthony Obame, the first ever Olympic medallist from Gabon, displayed a magnificent performance in front of the Iranian Mardani to become Men’s Heavy (+87 kg) new World Champion (10-2). After struggling to beat the Ivorian Zokou in the Quarter-finals, Obame took off the pressure and showed his best skills for the first time since the Olympics. He was down 1-0 at the beginning of the fight, but managed to connect a head kick at the end of the first period thanks to Juan Antonio Ramos’ video request appeal. After leading in the first round (3-1), the Gabonese set himself on fire, scoring 4 points through brilliant left back kicks (7-1). But he had not enough, so he went for the big one, the head kick, which he achieved in the last minute of the clash. The title was already his, so he just needed to defend properly to confirm it. 10-2, and Michael Jackson’s dancing style to celebrate the first medal for Gabon in the competition and only the third title for Africa in World Champions’ history, following Daba Modibo Keita (Mali), Heavy weight champion in 2007 and 2009.