Brave Lutalo So Close to Fulfilling Olympic Dream as Team GB’s Taekwondo Medal Tally Rises
Heartbroken Lutalo Muhammad doubled Team GB’s taekwondo medal haul at Rio 2016 but had gold snatched from his grasp in the cruelest manner possible.
The London 2012 bronze medallist led world number three Cheick Salle Cisse of the Ivory Coast 6-5 going into the final second of the -80kg final.
But one fatal lapse of concentration saw gold turned to silver in the blink of an eye.
“I am so distraught; this is so hard,” said the tearful runner-up. “I was so close to being Olympic champion and fulfilling my dream.
“My emotions are so raw. It should have been a gold medal.
“I am absolutely gutted to blow it. That’s life, winners and losers.
“I have got to wait four years for another chance. I am so disappointed it’s unbelievable one of the low points in my life.”
It all started so promisingly with Muhammad arriving in the arena looking relaxed and confident. He backed that up with his actions taking the first round 3-0 with a single head shot.
That lead went out to 4-0 with a penalty point before the African champion hit back to square the contest going into the last three minutes.
With 28 seconds of the final left Muhammad whipped off Cisse’s helmet but video replays showed it came off with the help of a hand.
However, another penalty and push kick took Muhammad to the verge of victory at 6-4.
Despite conceding a penalty point, he still had visions of the gold medal being hung round his neck.
But Muhammad fatally dropped his guard and Cisse’s reverse spinning kick stole the show to spark jubilant scenes and a lap of honour round the Carioca 3 Arena.
The two finalists certainly weren’t strangers having met twice in last season’s World Grand Prix.
Cisse won both quarter-final meetings by margins of eight and five points respectively.
Muhammad had guaranteed himself at least a silver after he defeated Milad Beigi Harchegani of Azerbaijan to reach the final.
Leading 5-4 deep into the final round, he round his range with a couple of head shots on his way to a 12-7 win over the European champion.
Victory was even more impressive as Harchegani knocked out Iran’s world number one Mehdi Khodabakhshi.
Muhammad began his second Olympics in superb fashion beating Australia’s Hayder Shkara 14-0 to reach the last eight.
That pitted the ‘Walthamstow Warrior’ up against taekwondo legend, Steven Lopez.
At 37, the double Olympic champion and six-time world champion appeared to provide a formidable opponent.
After all, he had knocked out Russia’s 2013 World Championship silver medallist, Albert Gaun, in the first round.
Instead, Muhammad, reveling in the atmosphere of the Carioca 3 Arena, dismantled his American rival winning 9-2.
In contrast, former GB international, Aaron Cook, competing for Moldova, lost his quarter-final to Chinese Taipei’s Wei-Ting Liu.
“After I hit him in the head and that didn’t come up for me I had to refocus. I went to the body instead and then I was up. Then it was just that last kick. My check skimmed off his reserve hit – but that’s sport.
“It is a horrible moment when his score has gone on the board and the time has run out.
“But I’m very happy and proud to be here. Second time Olympian and second time medallist – bronze, silver, so we know what’s next.
“I felt in control of the fight so it’s all the more painful. If I was losing all the way through you can accept it but I came very close to achieving my goal.
“I’ve had a lot of injury issues in the run up to Rio so I’m thankful that I was able to come here in great shape ready for the Olympics.
“I’m going to take some time off but I’m sure I’ll be back ready and hungry again.”