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Jordan wins historic Olympic gold medal

By Aline Bannayan - Aug 20,2016 - Last updated at Aug 20,2016

Taekwondo star Ahmad Abu Ghaush proudly shows off his gold medal after winning the taekwondo -68 kilogramme category at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Friday (Photo courtesy of JOC News Service)

AMMAN — A single athlete made history for Jordan after winning its first ever Olympic medal and entering Olympic history early Friday morning at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Enthusiasts who were following up the taekwondo competition were elated that a medal was within reach. However, Jordan woke up to the news that not only had Jordan won its first ever Olympic medal, but it was a gold that placed the Kingdom on the medal table among the top 50 of over 200 nations competing.

The honour was made possible by Ahmad Abu Ghaush, a 20-year old who came in top spot in taekwondo’s -68 kilogramme category. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Abu Ghaush told the Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC) News Service. “I dedicate this medal to His Majesty King Abdullah II and all the people of Jordan. This is for you”.

“I faced a very hard draw and had to beat the World and Olympic champions along the way. I am so pleased with everything. I want to thank my coach Faris Al Assaf who has been with me all the way on this journey. He is like a brother. To make history for Jordan is something special. I want all of Jordan to celebrate this medal.”

The 10th seed started off by beating Egypt’s Ghofran Ahmad 9-1 before defeating 2012 Olympic silver medallist No. 2 seed Lee Dae-hoon of South Korea 11-8. He then faced Spain’s Joel González wining 12-7 in the semis before beating 2012 bronze medallist top ranked Russia’s Alexey Denisenko 10-6 to win the gold.

Abu Ghaush was congratulated by Their Majesties King Abdullah and Queen Rania, HRH Crown Prince Hussein and JOC President HRH Prince Feisal, as Jordanians celebrated the gold medal back home awaiting the champ’s return, calling for proper recognition and appreciation of his achievement and extensively sharing posts of his bout and medal ceremony on social media.

Ever since first participating in the 1980 Olympics, Jordan’s national anthem was played only once before when Maha Barghouti won a gold medal in wheelchair table tennis at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000. 

“It’s an indescribable feeling to win the first medal in the history of Jordan in all the sports,” Abu Ghaush, who was knocked out in the second round of the world championships last year, told Reuters.

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

The 2012 World Youth champion had advanced to the 2016 Olympics after he won the 2016 Asian Qualification Tournament. The youngest competitor in his weight was also the first taekwondo athlete in the Arab world to win gold. He was 2012 World Junior Champion, 2012 Asian Junior Champion and 2016 Asian Olympic qualifying gold medallist.

While it was the first official medal for Jordan in the past there were significant achievements in the game like three bronze medals at the 1988 Seoul Games by Samer Kamal and Ihsan Abu Sheikha, and at the 1992 Barcelona Games by Ammar Fahed. However, taekwondo was still considered an “exhibition sport” at the time.

The Olympic taekwondo competition in Rio’s Olympic Park saw two of the most anticipated weight categories contested, with sporting history written twice. After taekwondo delivered Jordan its first ever Olympic medal, it also gave Iran its first ever female Olympic medal in any sport.

Abu Ghaush, a student pursuing a sports science degree at the University of Jordan, has instantly become a household name in Jordan and he is an athlete to watch. He underwent extensive training for Rio and attended the “Booyoung Dream Programme” in Korea in July which was sponsored by the World Taekwondo Federation for teams with limited financial means. The programme offered intensive taekwondo training in the run-up to Rio 2016 and now appears to have paid a very historic dividend for the athlete and his country.

“I believe this can be a real game changer for sport as a whole for Jordan. We have been searching for a real star for a long time that young people can aspire to be and Ahmad is that person,” Team Jordan spokesman David Williams, who is the JOC communications and marketing director, told The Jordan Times.

“A wonderful character who can really inspire a new generation of Jordanian sportsmen and women. The pride of Jordan,” he added.

Abu Ghaush’s medal was only the second gold medal for Arab countries in Rio where Bahrain, Algeria, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, the UAE and Jordan until now have won a total of 13 medals combined. 

As with most Arab athletes who have settled for the idea of symbolic participation at the Games, Jordan’s contingent included some athletes qualifying to the Games while others received IOC invitations which respect the principle of universal representation.

Jordan entered two boxers into the Olympic boxing tournament. Super heavyweight boxer Hussein Ishaish lost in the quarter-finals. The 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist had claimed his Olympic spot with a box-off victory at the 2016 Asia and Oceania Qualification Tournament. Teammate Obada Al Kesbeh who was out in the first round received an invitation from the Tripartite Commission to compete in the men’s light welterweight division. He was 2013 Asian Silver medallist and 2014 Asian Games Bronze medallist.

Jordan has qualified one judoka but did not get past the preliminary round for the men’s middleweight 90kg category in the nation’s Olympic debut in the sport. Ibrahim Khalaf earned a continental quota spot from the Asian region, as the highest-ranked Jordanian judoka outside of direct qualifying position in the IJF World Ranking List. He was 2016 Asian Bronze, 2013 Arab Championship Silver, 2003 Arab Youth Champion.

Jordan received a universality invitation from International Swimming Federation to send two swimmers to the Olympics. Khader Baqlah and sibling Talita bettered their personal times and departed early in the men’s 200 and women’s 50 metres respectively.

Lawrence Fanous was awarded a tripartite commission invitation for the men’s triathlon where he finished 46th marking the country’s debut in the sport. He was 7th at Asian Games 2014. Teammate Mithqal Abu Drais was set on Sunday to compete in his second Olympic marathon.

It was the 10th time for Jordan at the Olympics Games where over 10,000 athletes from 204 countries competed in Rio which comes to an end on Sunday with the closing ceremony. 

 

The 2020 Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan.

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