By Ian Ransom
BEIJING (Reuters) – Cuba’s Angel Valodia Matos was banned for life from taekwondo on Saturday for kicking a referee and a Chinese favorite was knocked out in a controversial ruling as the final bouts of the Olympic tournament descended into chaos.
The confusion overshadowed victory for Cha Dong-min, who took South Korea’s fourth taekwondo gold medal at the Beijing Games in the men’s +80-kg category, and Mexico’s Maria Espinoza, who won gold in the women’s +67-kg.
Leading 3-2 in the men’s +80-kg bronze-medal bout against Kazakhstan’s Arman Chilmanov, Matos slumped to the floor rubbing his leg and was disqualified for exceeding a minute’s injury time, prompting the Cuban’s coach to rush onto the mat.
After a heated exchange, Matos struck the referee in the head with a high kick. He also kicked another official before being escorted out of the arena.
A tournament official announced the life ban for Matos and his coach over a loudspeaker a few minutes later.
“It was an insult to the Olympic vision, to the spirit of taekwondo and for me, an insult to mankind,” said Jin Suk Yang, general secretary of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).
Jin qualified that the ban was pending approval from the IOC and that the Cuban team could appeal.
He also said that the WTF would seek legal action against the Cuban team, and that the referee needed stitches for a cut lip.
Chilmanov was awarded the bronze by default.
Greece’s Alexandros Nikolaidis took the silver and Chika Yagazie Chukwumerije of Nigeria took the other bronze.
The women’s competition was almost as tumultuous.
Chinese double Olympic champion Chen Zhong was eliminated in controversial fashion, following a protest by the team of her British quarter-final opponent, Sarah Stevenson.
Chen had her victory over Stevenson overturned after tournament officials ruled that referees missed a scoring kick in the dying seconds that would have won the Briton the match.
The ruling, announced over a loudspeaker, prompted enraged Chinese spectators to chant “kangyi!” (protest!) for several minutes.
Taekwondo officials had consulted the Chinese team before making the decision, Jin said.
“Their response was: ‘we are a hosting country and believing in sportsmanship, we are willing to accept any outcome from the decision’,” said Jin.
Stevenson eventually took a bronze after defeating Noha Abd Rabo of Egypt, amid a chorus of jeering from Chinese spectators.
Norway’s Nina Solheim took the silver after losing 3-1 to Espinoza, and Brazil’s Natalia Falavigna took the other bronze.
(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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