By Chang-Ran Kim
CHIBA, Japan, July 25 (Reuters) – Refugee Kimia Alizadeh, who won a taekwondo bronze medal for Iran at the Rio Olympics, beat an erstwhile compatriot and went on to crush Briton Jade Jones’ dream of a historic third gold, advancing to the quarter-finals in the women’s -57kg category.
Alizadeh’s defeat of two-time Olympic champion Jones was one of two major early upsets as South Korea’s top gold medal contender, Lee Dae-hoon, lost his first match in a disappointing result ahead of his planned retirement.
Competing under the white flag of the Refugee Olympic Team, 23-year-old Alizadeh was a clear favourite in the Makuhari Messe arena, entering to applause from members of the media and others in the venue at which no general public spectators were allowed.
Cheers erupted when she finished her two matches – the first against Iran‘s Nahid Kiyanichandeh – coached by Alizadeh’s previous instructor – and again after her 16-12 defeat of Jones in the round of 16.
Jones, the face of Team Britain, which has a record five taekwondo athletes competing at the Games, fell to her knees after her loss, as her roommate and heavyweight taekwondoin Bianca Walkden watching from the sidelines broke into tears.
Both Jones and Alizadeh left the arena without stopping to talk to media.
Alizadeh became the only woman to win an Olympic medal for Iran when she took bronze at Rio in 2016. She fled to Germany last year, and is one of three taekwondo and 29 athletes competing for the refugee team at Tokyo.
The refugee athlete said she left her homeland because she was fed up with being used as a propaganda tool.
Jones will have a chance to return to the contest in the repechage stage if Alizadeh advances to the finals.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Karishma Singh)