Australian student wins first taekwondo gold
Fighting with "heart, soul and passion" an Australian student won the first Olympic gold in taekwondo on Wednesday, but a touching story of sacrifice involving two U.S. fighters ended in tears.
Lauren Burns, competing with patched up knees and a pin holding together a shattered finger -- trophies of 12 years of competitive fighting -- brought the Sydney crowd to their feet as the ancient Korean martial art made its debut as an Olympic sport.
"I had to give it heart, soul and passion," said Burns after her 4-2 destruction of Cuba's Urbia Melendez Rodriguez in the women's under 49kg final.
The bronze went to Taiwan's Chi Shu-ji, who defeated Hanne Hoegh Poulsen of Denmark 4-0.
In the men's under 58kg final, Michail Mouroutsos of Greece took out Spain's Gabriel Esparza 4-2, while third spot went to Huang Chih-Hsiung of Taiwan who overcame Gabriel Alberto Taraburelli of Argentina 3-0.
In the women's final, Rodriguez complained of biased refereeing in a stadium packed with flag-waving Australians who raised the roof every time Burns connected with a flying kick.
"I think the referees favoured the Australians a bit," she told reporters.
Her coach Robert Cardenas Suarez, was more measured, saying: "The referees feel the pressure from the crowd -- I understand because they are human beings."
A fighting art akin to karate, only with kicks and no punches, taekwondo has been an instant hit in Sydney despite its relatively low international profile. Points are scored for each clean kick landed over three rounds.
Contestants wear protective padding on their chests and shins, and head guards.
HEARTACHE FOR U.S. FIGHTERS
Poulsen was responsible for one of the biggest heartbreaks of the Sydney Olympics when she came back from 1-3 down to beat favourite Kay Poe of the United States 4-3 in the first round.
Poe was competing only because her best friend Esther Kim sacrificed her own place on the U.S. team.
Her defeat was a sad ending to a story of sporting selflessness that had turned Kim into a celebrity at home, earned her a standing ovation in Sydney from the International Olympic Committee and garnered new respect for her martial art, which teaches that cultivation of the mind and spirit is more important than winning.
The two friends, inseparable since they bumped into each other 11 years ago at a Halloween party in Texas, fell into each other's arms in shock after Poe's defeat.
"We really didn't say much of anything -- we just cried," said Poe.
But the dark-haired Kim, 20, was still standing by her 18-year-old blonde buddy.
And she had no regrets about her decision to forfeit a qualifying fight against Poe who had badly smashed her knee in an earlier round-robin bout.
Kim feared if she fought her friend the knee might buckle, finishing Poe's career.
"I'm still proud of her," said Kim. "I'm still going to support her 100 per cent".
"She didn't let me down -- nobody let me down."
To ease their pain, Kim and Poe had front-row seats for the final next to the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
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