Daba Mobido Keita put Mali on the martial arts map by winning gold in the men's +84kg at the World Taekwondo Championships in Beijing yesterday.
The towering African dominated Iran's Morteza Rostami in the final match, leading throughout the three-round game before winning 5-0. He also becomes the first athlete from West Africa to win a taekwondo world title.
"This will be a nationwide celebration,' said Mobido. "It's a thrill to win."
Thanks to a sponsorship program from the International Olympic Committee, the Mali team was given a $2,000 budget to travel to Beijing, though this meant five players still had to stay at home.
"I hope you won't laugh because this is only $2,000," Mobido said. "What we did today is a new chapter in African history."
The 26-year-old started to practise the sport at 16 and is still new to the taekwondo world. He explained the motivation he gets from the support of his family and the whole nation by showing a picture of his mother during the post-game press conference.
"I am full of power every time I look at the picture," he said
In other finals, Filip Grgic of Croatia defeated Nacha Punthong of Thailand to win men's 62kg, while Karine Sergerie of Canada came back from a 0-3 deficit in the first two rounds to defeat Park Hye-mi of South Korea in extra time of the women's 59kg with a sudden death kick.
"I trusted my coach and kept patient," Sergerie said. "Deep down I knew I needed to follow the plan I made before the match and it worked out well.
It was another disappointing day for China as none of the three host players made it into the semifinals.
China's national champion Liu Xiaobo was eliminated 7-3 by Morteza Rostami of Iran in the quarterfinals of men's +84kg. Liu, a rising star on the Chinese team and a medal hopeful for the Beijing Olympic Games next year, advanced into the quarters with two heart-stopping sudden-death victories, but was punished for his over-aggression against a defensive Rostami.
"He knows me very well because we have played each other several times before. I think my play was studied thoroughly by him and I could not perform at my best," Liu said.
In men's 62kg, Li Haifeng was stopped in the second round by Nacha Punthong of Thailand after a first-round bye. Another Chinese, Zong Shaojuan, also lost in the second round to South Korean Park Hye-mi.
With the tournament coming to its conclusion today, the expectant home fans will pin their last hopes on two-time Olympic champion Chen Zhong. Chen will compete in women's +72kg and is seen as the overwhelming favorite.
The 25-year-old from Henan Province was the winner at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics but has never won a gold medal at the World Championships. Her best result from the Worlds is a silver medal from the 2001 edition. With a victory in Beijing, Chen will become nation's first ever taekwondo grand slam winner - previously she won the World Cup to go with her Olympic titles.
Her teammate Yang Ping will take part in the women's 67kg and men's compatriot Pan Dongdong plays the men's 84kg.
Judging controversy continued to rock the tournament after the supervisory board of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) suspended two referees yesterday.
Source: China Daily