Tokyo Olympics: Bradly Sinden accepts silver lining before quickly switching sights towards Paris 2024

Thirteen years after he was inspired to dream big by the sight of his fellow Doncaster native Sarah Stevenson winning Olympic bronze in Beijing, Bradly Sinden came within eight seconds of securing Great Britain’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.

HEARTACHE: Doncaster's Bradly Sinden reflects after his defeat in the taekwondo men's 68kg final in Tokyo. Picture: AP/Themba Hadebe

In a dramatic repeat of Lutalo Muhammad’s last-gasp agony five years ago in Rio, Sinden had gold at his mercy as he led by two points with eight seconds remaining before a head-kick by Uzbek opponent Ulugbek Rashitov saw the top prize snatched away at the death.

Sinden had blazed through the preliminary stages in the Makuhari Hall, before digging out an epic semi-final comeback over China’s Shuai Zhao to march into the men’s -68kg final on his Olympic debut.

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But he faced a test too far in Rashitov, a little-known 19-year-old who had accounted for South Korea’s top seed Lee Daehoon in his second contest, and whose impressive level-headed approach enabled him to rally at the death for a 34-29 triumph.

ON A ROLL: Bradly Sinden (left) lands a blow against New Zealand's Tom Burns in the Men's -68KG Round of 16 at Makuhari Messe Hall A. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

It was a tough loss to take for Sinden.

“It’s a bit hard when you get silver,” he said. “When you’re in the bronze medal match and you win, you get to celebrate because you’ve won the bronze and you get to celebrate when you win gold.

“Silver is in that wishy-washy part. I’ll definitely reflect on it after I’ve had a bit of time off, and be proud of what I’ve achieved, especially in those last five years, coming from no ranking points to becoming world champion and so close [today].

“The gold medal was mine and I did make a mistake and the Uzbekistani picked up on it. He’s a good player and well played to him.

Uzbekistan's Ulugbek Rashitov, right, edged out Doncaster's Bradly Sinden (left) in the Men's 68kg gold medal bout. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

“It is a hard one to take but sometimes, from losing, you get the better learning from it, and I will be taking that learning curve into Paris (2024) with me.”

Sinden’s defeat meant he failed to add to the world title he claimed in Manchester in 2019, and also left Great Britain still waiting to crown a first male Olympic champion in the sport.

Sinden had produced a devastating series of performances to reach the final on his Games debut, racking up 92 points in successive stoppage wins over New Zealand’s Tom Burns and Hakan Recber of Turkey.

In the semi-final, he found himself seven points down midway through the final round against Zhao, the reigning -57kg Olympic champion, before bursting back in the final minute to secure a 33-25 win.

Great Britain's Jade Jones contemplates defeat in her -57KG Round of 16 match against Refugee Olympic Team's Kimia Alizadeh Zonoozi. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Put into context, even Sinden’s lowest score of his opening three bouts surpassed that of any other athlete in his competition until Rashitov’s belated burst.

Unlike his previous contests, Sinden struggled to gain the initiative and trailed by five points at the end of the first round, an advantage Rashitov twice briefly extended to seven in the second.

However, just as he had in his semi-final, Sinden buckled down and a head kick right at the end of the round saw him claw the deficit back to a fully retrievable four at 14-18.

Two trunk kicks brought Sinden back to level in the first part of the second round and Sinden looked to have seized the advantage when he turned his former deficit into a four-point lead.

In a frenetic final half-minute, first the Uzbek regained a two-point advantage before Sinden swung the bout back in his direction going into the final 10 seconds.

In a unerring repeat of Muhammad’s last-gasp heartbreak in Rio, Sinden’s hopes of gold were ended with eight seconds left on the clock when a head-kick from Rashitov effectively sealed his dramatic victory.

Muhammad was one of the first to acknowledge Sinden’s near-miss, telling the BBC: “I can fully empathise, I know what he’s going through.

“I think we all thought he’d won it at the end.

“It just hurts because he was so close to becoming Olympic champion.

“But he will come again, and after that performance it’s safe to say he will win Olympic gold in the future.”

There was even bigger disappointment earlier in the day for GB’s defending women’s -57kg champion Jade Jones, who conceded the absence of ‘Team Crazy’ and her failure to adapt to the empty stands in Tokyo cost her the chance to go down in history as the first British female to win gold medals at three consecutive Olympics.

The 28-year-old was upset 16-12 by the Refugee Team’s Kimia Alizadeh, and was subsequently denied a second chance at a place on the podium when Alizadeh’s semi-final defeat ruled her out of the repechage.

Jones, who emphasised her near-decade long dominance of the division when she added an elusive world title to her two Olympic crowns in Manchester in 2019, said she was affected by the absence of her family and friends due to restrictions brought about by the ongoing Covid pandemic.

“I just felt I put too much pressure on myself going into it and I really did feel it more than I expected,” said Jones. “Not having my family there to push me out of that fear zone really did affect me, and I’m gutted I couldn’t do more on the day.

“Normally if I feel the pressure I’ll go out and hear them screaming and see their little faces, and it’ll push me into that attack mode, and that’s what was missing today. I just stayed in the scared mode.”

Jones had appeared unfortunate to draw Alizadeh, a bronze medallist in Rio where she represented Iran, in her opening contest, but appeared to be in little danger when two head kicks helped her establish a two-point lead at the end of the first round.

But Jones’ usual snap was missing and the much taller Alizadeh, who left her homeland to seek sanctuary in Germany in the wake of Rio, turned the bout around before defending her slender advantage late on.

Alizadeh failed to come through qualifying but was handed a reprieve due to special dispensation afforded the Refugee Team, leaving an odd number in the draw and Jones having to wait to discover who she would face in her opening bout.

Jones’ defeat brought a juddering halt to hopes of Team GB’s first medal of the Games but it failed to puncture the party mood back in her home town of Flint, where those friends and family members had congregated in her auntie’s garden to watch her progress on a specially-erected big screen.

“I’ve got the best family in the world,” added Jones. “I call them ‘Team Crazy’, and it shows even more that when I lost I Facetimed them and they were all celebrating as if I’d won, and they were all so proud of me.

“So I’m really lucky to be going back to that, win or lose. I’ve got all of them and that’s what helps, really.”

Jones will resist the temptation to make a snap decision about her future in the sport and instead divert her attention to supporting her best friend and flat-mate Bianca Walkden, who bids for an elusive Olympic title on Tuesday.

Walkden was in tears in the stands as Jones crashed out, and Jones said she would seek to help the Liverpudlian come to terms with the unusual environment in which she fell short.

Jones added: “Bianca’s been amazing and seeing her up in the crowd crying, I think she is as hurt as me, so I’ll just try to tell her my mistakes so she doesn’t make them, and can go and get that gold medal she deserves.”