Taekwondo grudge match in Rio off after surprising loss

Liu Wei-Ting of Taipei, left, and Aaron Cook of Moldova compete in a men's Taekwondo 80-kg competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The taekwondo grudge match that was supposed to happen at the Rio de Janeiro Games is off

RIO DE JANEIRO — The taekwondo grudge match that was supposed to happen at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics will not come off.

British-born Aaron Cook, who now fights for Moldova, had been hoping for a chance to prove to British officials that they were wrong for refusing to pick him for the London Olympics.

But in a surprising result Friday in the men's 80-kilogram division, Cook went out in the first round, losing to Taiwan's Liu Wei-Ting 14-2. Cook appeared out of sorts on the mat and was unable to string together any sustained attack against Liu, who used his height advantage by nailing Cook with several well-timed head kicks.

"I'm devastated," Cook said. "To have the opportunity to be here is amazing ... but I just feel like I've let everyone down today."

He couldn't explain what went wrong; Cook is normally a rapid-fire competitor who unleashes his unrelenting spinning kicks as soon as a fight begins. But it was Liu who was in control Friday.

The two had never fought before, but Cook said he had studied Liu's fights and trained with opponents similar to him.

"It didn't go right for me on the biggest stage, and it's heartbreaking," he said, acknowledging that he felt some pressure after waiting years for a chance to fight at a second Olympics. Cook narrowly missed out on a bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008.

Cook trained for years with the British taekwondo academy until a coaching dispute. British officials then declined to select him for the London Olympics despite his world No. 1 ranking. Instead, they chose Lutalo Muhammad, then ranked 56th in the world. Muhammad went on to win a bronze.

Earlier this month, Muhammad said he relished the chance to fight Cook at Rio and described their relationship as "probably the biggest rivalry in taekwondo." He said the two were definitely not friends and that he was looking forward to settling the score on the mat in Rio.

Muhammad breezed through his first-round fight Friday, demolishing his opponent 14-0. He next faces Steven Lopez of the United States, a five-time world champion and double Olympic gold medalist, in the quarterfinals later in the day.

Cook may still have a chance to fight for a bronze in the repechage competition if Liu advances.

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