Ivory Coast taekwondo practitioner Ruth Gbagbi proudly returned from the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a bronze won in the 67 kg category, defending the medal she claimed five years in Rio, Brazil.
The Covid-19 crisis destabilized the initial schedule of the Olympic Games, forcing its postponement for one full year, from 2020 to 2021, while also affecting plans and preparations of several athletes. But for Gbagbi, the chaos turned out to be a blessing in disguise for her and many others.
“Personally, I worked harder than usual because I knew there was a challenge – the Covid19. It was going to be an extraordinary year and competition because of the pains the world has seen in the few past years due to the disease. Not just me, all the athletes I knew, saw, and heard off, were forced to train and work harder to be able to live up to the expectations in Tokyo,” the 27-year-old tells ACLsports.
She says her objective for the Games was to improve on her previous bronze medal, and after defeating Mengyu Zhang from China (21-9) in the quarterfinals she saw herself inching closer to her dream. However, she was stopped by Lauren Williams from Britain in the semi-finals.
“I never thought I would lose that fight because it was easier than the previous but it happened. I told myself thereafter that I needed not to fall below a bronze because that was what we had at stake in the third-place fight against Brazilian Milena Titoneli which I eventually won (12-8). I am very glad that it did not escape me.”
Few days before the closure of the Games, Gbagbi made the local media headlines for decamping from Ivory Coast Olympic village and drawing the ire of the official delegation. She says she had no more business in Tokyo and had to leave but why secretly?
“I was fed up with the whole thing and wanted to go home. I knew I was supposed to inform the head of our delegation (local Olympic committee) but I took the decision because of a few things.”
What are those things?
“Personal,” she says.
Another talking point about the 2017 and 2019 Grand Prix champion was the “colossal” investment the Ivorian government injected in her preparation for the Olympic Games. On one side, some locals believe it was a good thing or the other, some say it was too much for an unpopular sport like taekwondo.
There has been no official confirmation of the $375,000 which reportedly went into her preparation.
“I think what people should understand is not the figures, not the cash, not the resources we use for preparation but what we come home with to make the nation proud. For all those complaining, I am the only participant that won a medal for Ivory Coast in Tokyo. Let them talk about that and not the money I used in preparing. I am not allowed to disclose it but all I can say is that the authorities took very good care of me during preparations and I am happy I did not disappoint.”
Her fellow Ivorian Cheick Cissé, the 2016 taekwondo Olympic champion, was knocked out in the first round at the 2020 Olympic Games.