DUBAI: Tarek Hamdi endured a heartbreaking end to the final of the Men’s Karate Kumite +75kg at Tokyo 2020 when a penalty for dangerous play denied him a gold when he was leading 4-1 opponent Sajag Ganzjadeh of Iran, who departed the mat at Nippon Budokan arena on a stretcher.
While an Olympic silver is still a stunning achievement for the 23-year-old, he will be distraught at losing a gold that was agonizingly within reach. The match was awarded as a default 4-0 win for the Iranian.
Within nine seconds of the start, Hamdi had scored an ippon to lead 3-0, and followed shortly with a yuko to stretch his lead to four points.
Leading, the Saudi was heading to glorious gold but there would be a final, agonizing twist in the tale with penalty and disqualification.
It capped a dramatic day for Hamdi after he had beaten Japan's Ryutaro Araga 2-0 in the semi-final with a stunning performance.
His first match in Pool B of the Men’s Kumite +75kg class competition ended with a narrow 3-2 defeat to 2018 World Champion Ivan Kvesic of Croatia, but the Saudi showed enough to be taken seriously by his more experienced opponents.
Hamdi had started the match on the front foot putting Kvesic under pressure, and within 36 seconds both fighters had scored a point each, though seconds later the Croatian had taken a 2-1 lead.
Kvesic took a 3-1 lead but Hamdi halved the lead with just over 40 seconds left in the bout. Despite a brave, energetic effort, the Saudi was unable to get any more points.
In his second outing, Hamdi claimed his first win of Tokyo 2020, beating Brian Irr of the USA 4-1 with a brilliant performance that took his 33-year-old opponent by surprise.
With just over a minute left Hamdi posted the first point of the match to lead 1-0, and he was now within sight of a hugely encouraging win that would put him back in contention for a semifinal place.
A superb ippon from Hamedi with 24 seconds left gave him 4-1 lead that he maintained to the final bell.
Buoyed by that superb winning performance against the American, Tarek Hamdi carried his momentum into his third bout of the day to draw 0-0 against Sajad Ganjzadeh of Iran.
Hamdi was on the front foot for the majority of the match, but could not land the blows that would win him a priceless two points.
Still, the one point for the tie had given him a total of three from three matches and meant his hopes of a semifinal place were ahead of his meeting with Daniel Gaysinsky of Canada in his final Poll B match.
Hamdi first got into karate in 2009 but it was not until a few years later that he decided to take it up seriously, he said, landing in Tokyo as one of the Saudi delegation’s most decorated athletes.
At the age 15 he won his first medal with Saudi Arabia, grabbing a gold at the Asian Junior Championships 2013 in Uzbekistan. He followed that up by becoming the first Saudi to win gold in a Karate World Championship, in Jakarta in 2015.
In 2017 everything Hamdi touched turned to gold.
He claimed first place finishes at four tournaments in the 75 kg category: the Asian Championship in Indonesia, the World Cup in Croatia, the U23 Asian Championship and the Asian Senior Championships, both in Kazakhstan. His achievements earned him the title of world most promising karate athlete for the year.
His podium count continued to stack up in 2018 with bronze medals at the World League in Spain, the World Premier League in the UAE and the Asian Games in Jakarta. He also won gold at the Asian Senior Championships 2019 in Uzbekistan.
Hamdi secured qualification to the Olympics with a gold at the Karate Tokyo 2020 Qualifiers that were held in France earlier this year.