Joel González of Spain had stepped up a division since winning the flyweight gold medal at London 2012 and was optimistic about winning a second gold, particularly after winning silver in the 63kg class at the 2015 World Championships. A strong favourite for the featherweight title, however, was Turkey’s Servet “The Cheetah” Tazegül, who won in 2012 and was the reigning European and World 68kg Champion, but there were plenty of others to pick from. Seeded one place above Tazegül, in fourth place, was Russia’s Aleksey Denisenko, who the Turk beat in the 2015 world final in what was described as one of the all-time great taekwondo matches and one many would like to see repeated as the 2016 Olympic final.
The number one seed, and 2015 63kg world champion, was Belgium’s Jaouad Achab, a flamboyant fighter who was great to watch despite being a bit too light in this 68kg category. The experienced South Korean Lee Dae-Hun was number two seed and was a silver medallist in 2012 behind the Spaniard González. The third seed Saúl Gutiérrez of Mexico was a 63kg bronze medallist at the 2015 worlds and he was tall, which is a big advantage for attempting head kicks.
Unlike the first day of completion, when the favourites fell by the wayside in the early part of competition, the 68kg class went much to form with Gutiérrez being the only one of the top six seeds to fall in the first round. The fans got the re-run of the Tazegül – Denisenko contest in the quarter-final but, unlike the World Championship final, it was far from a classic as the Russian ran out a 19-6 winner on the points gap rule in the second round.
In the first repêchage, Tazegül, the now deposed defending champion and number five seed, was defeated by 13th seed Edgar Contreras of Venezuela in the golden point sudden-death after a 4-4 tie. The first of the bronze medal matches saw Contreras against González hold out for a 4-3 win. The other bronze medal match was between the number one and two seeds, Jaouad Achab and Lee Dae-Hun, and it was a great contest which Lee won 11-7, but the scoreline does not tell the full story of a match that saw the lead change hands several times in the first two rounds.
In the gold medal match, the fourth seed Denisenko had impressed all day with his wide array of skills, whilst the tenth seed Jordanian Ahmad Abughaush had become a favourite of the fans with his footwork and variety of kicks; thus the final was between two men of different contrasts. The Jordanian opened up a one point lead in round two after a scoreless opening round, but that one point was all that separated the two men at the end of the round. Abughaush built up a lead of 7-2 and then 10-2 in the third round by which time it looked over and despite a late flourish from the Russian, Jordan won their first ever Olympic medal in any sport, thanks to Abughaush’s 10-6 win.