South Korea claimed the first taekwondo gold medal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Wednesday, restoring some pride to the country that invented the sport.
Seventh-ranked Sohui Kim defeated Tijana Bogdanovic of Serbia in a tight final where both fighters struggled to find their form. Kim won 7-6.
"I never expected to be the Olympic champion," Kim said. "I feel like I'm on cloud nine."
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South Korea took only a single gold at the London Olympics and is hoping for a better performance in Rio. At the end of the first day of competition, it already had a gold and a bronze — won by Taehun Kim in the men's 58-kilogram division.
To chants of "Korea" in the stadium, Kim scored first against Bogdanovic in the 49-kilogram final with a roundhouse kick before cementing her lead in the second round with a head shot. She was penalized for avoiding the fight in the last seconds of the match, and a video replay contesting whether she had scored another head kick — that was ultimately unsuccessful — delayed her celebrations.
Kim said that because taekwondo is a Korean sport, there is additional pressure to deliver.
"I feel proud that I can win (this medal) for Korea," she said.
Bogdanovic dominated most of her fights on Wednesday and knocked out two-time defending Olympic champion Jingyu Wu of China. The Serb said she was disappointed not to win the gold and disputed whether the scoring was accurate.
The women's bronze medals were won by Patimat Abakorova of Azerbaijan and Panipak Wongpattanakit of Thailand.
In the men's 58-kilogram division, eighth-ranked Shuai Zhao of China beat Tawin Hanprab of Thailand 6-4 to claim gold.
The two fought in an acrobatic final marked by Zhao's almost continuous stream of head kicks — made all the more colorful by the yellow trousers he was wearing in a nod to the Olympic officials' decision to allow competitors to add a single color to the traditional all-white taekwondo uniform.
Hanprab tried desperately to counterattack by using spinning kicks but didn't quite manage to connect.
The 21-year-old Zhao won a bronze medal at the Asian Championships this year. The men's flyweight category was left wide open after the first round on Wednesday morning, when the division's top two seeded fighters went out in their first matches of the day; another leading medal contender had to pull out because of injury.
The men's bronze medals were won by Luisito Pie of the Dominican Republic and Taehun Kim of South Korea.