Only Olympic medal: Jordanian blows competition away

Gold medallist, Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan celebrates on the podium after the men's -68kg Gold Medal Taekwondo contest at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Gold medallist, Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan celebrates on the podium after the men's -68kg Gold Medal Taekwondo contest at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

While winning an Olympic medal is a personal goal for thousands of athletes, for 24 nations it is a dream that has only ever come true once. Tokyo2020.org looks at the glorious moment and the impact it had on the lives of the athletes who achieved it.

The background

Thirty-six years after making their debut at the Moscow 1980 Games, Jordan won their first ever Olympic medal and it happened to be gold.

Ahmad Abughaush, who was just 20 years old, headed into the Olympic Games Rio 2016 as an outside contender for a medal in the men's taekwondo -68kg division.

Born in Amman, the Jordanian capital, Abughaush first took up taekwondo at the age of six at a local training centre.

His talents were recognised early on and was eventually selected to join the national team. In 2010, he was the only Arab athlete to win gold at the Junior Taekwondo World Championship held in Egypt.

The following year he competed as a senior at the World Taekwondo Championships in the the finweight division (-54kg) but was defeated by eventual bronze medallist Meisam Bagheri in the Round of 32. Abughaush would continue to compete in 2012, even receiving the best Jordanian athlete award by the country's Olympic Committee. However, injuries stuck.

First it was a broken hip, which saw him unable to walk for two months, and the following week after his return he ruptured his right ACL - which led to him being out for a year. Returning once again, this time he tore his left knee, spending two years on the sidelines.

Alexey Denisenko of Russaia competes against Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan during the men's -68kg Gold Medal Taekwondo contest at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Alexey Denisenko of Russaia competes against Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan during the men's -68kg Gold Medal Taekwondo contest at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

History in the making

Jordan, a country with more than seven million people, has never sent more than 10 athletes to compete at an Olympic Games. In fact, there were only eight Jordanian athletes in Brazil. However, since the introduction of taekwondo on the Olympic programme in Sydney 2000, Jordan had always sent an athlete to compete.

The country came close to winning their first medal at Athens 2004 with Ibrahim Aqil, who made the bronze medal match, but he fell short to Frenchmen Pascal Gentil and finished in fourth place.

Twelve years later Abughaush headed to the Rio 2016 Games ranked no 10 in the world, and shattered expectations.

He beat both the two-time world champion and London 2012 silver medallist Lee Dae-hoon in the quarter-finals before defeating the reigning Olympic champion Joel Gonzalez of Spain in the semi-final.

In the final he faced Russia's Alexey Denisenko, who Abughaush had lost to in the Round of 64 at the 2015 World Championship, but this time he walked away as the victor. The Jordanian showed his skills and power, rarely missing the mark to secure a coveted gold medal - and Jordan's first Olympic medal ever - with a 10-6 win.

Speaking after his win Abughaush said: "It's an indescribable feeling to win the first medal in the history of Jordan in all the sports".

"It's also a great feeling to listen to the national anthem of Jordan being played in Rio in front of the whole world."

Life-changing impact

Since becoming an Olympic champion, Abughaush has become a celebrity in Jordan.

"Everyone comes up to me in the street. Now when I go to the mall, to the shops, everyone knows me and they come over to take some pictures with me," he told Olympic.org in 2018.

While the gold medallist had many opportunities including countless interviews across his home country and other parts of the Gulf, as well as being invited to watch Jordan's national women's football team train, he wants to continue inspiring the next generation.

"My favourite thing has been setting an example for the young people here in Jordan.

"Many people have taken up taekwondo since [the gold medal win]. I have become their role model, and not just for taekwondo athletes but for everyone in every sport. That is the best thing."

Since his Rio achievements, Abughaush has continued adding medals to his collection including a World Championship silver (2019) and bronze (2017), two 2017 Grand Pix golds and an 2018 Asian Games bronze.

He's also aiming to return to the Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 and wants to re-write the history books once again.

"I hope I can become the first Jordanian to win two Olympic medals. My goal is to be on the podium and to get the gold again."