Aaron Cook is hoping he can take his ‘maverick’ approach to the Rio Olympics in two years after he secured a silver medal on a day of upsets at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester on Saturday.
The world number one was defeated 13-11 in the men’s -80kg final by Iranian Mahdi Khodabakhshi after knocking out world champion Tahir Guelec in the semis with a stunning head kick early on.
Further shocks included the early exits of five-time world champion Steven Lopez and the defending champion Lutalo Muhammad on a day when Cook walked away a proud man.
“I’m happy with my training, with the support I have around me, with my family. So many people have helped me. The list is a mile long, but most of all my family,” said Cook, whose parents fund his career.
“It’s tough with my parents paying for everything. Some may say it’s maverick but it’s an individual sport at the end of the day and I’m doing what’s right for me. I’m one step closer to Rio.
“To everyone that stayed here today to watch, I just want to thank them.”
On a successful day for Iran, Khodabakhshi’s medal was one of two golds and a bronze for the nation.
“Iran showed today what a great Taekwondo team it has and the world can be sure that will carry on. The weekend in Manchester has been perfect,” said the gold medallist.
“I have seen Cook fight but I have never fought with him before. He was a very difficult opponent and it was a brilliant result for me beating the world number one.”
Iranian Masoud Hajizavareh and German Guelec picked up the bronze medals in the -80kg category.
Guelec’s clash with Cook was cut short after he suffered a thumping kick to the head inside the opening minute of the match, being forced to concede.
Last year’s winner Lutalo Muhammad lost his second round fight 8-7 to eventual bronze medallist Hajizavareh.
Nikita Rafalovich of Uzbekistan had a day to remember, beating taekwondo legend Steven Lopez and Olympic champion Sebastian Crismanich, but still missed out on the medals.
Farzan Ashour Zadeh Fallah emerged victorious in the men’s -58kg competition, beating China’s Shuai Zhao by virtue of a golden point playoff.
“I had five high-ranked opponents today but the people in Iran were praying for me to win,” said Ashour Zadeh Fallah.
“I got the 40 ranking points I wanted and a gold medal. I think I can make it to Rio.”
Cesar Rodriguez of Mexico and Rui Braganca of Portugal took bronze, Braganca was particularly pleased having never before won a Grand Prix bout.
The women’s -49kg category was won by Spaniard Brigida Yague, defeating Hungary’s Ivett Gonda 4-2 in the final.
Yague edged a tense match, having already caused an upset in her semi-final after defeating Olympic bronze medallist and world number one Lucija Zaninovic 5-4.
“I am very happy. I am super excited to have come to this huge competition in Manchester and to win is amazing,” said the Spaniard.
“Next up I have the nationals but I am taking things step by step and hoping big for Rio.”
Gonda took the silver medal and was surprised with the success she has experienced in Manchester.
“I actually didn’t come here with a medal in mind, but obviously a podium is always great.
“I’ve fought Brigida quite a few times before. I made a few small mistakes, and she’s definitely a top precise fighter, so it’s great to be against her in the ring.
“We have a long-term goal and are setting smaller benchmarks. To qualify for the Rio Olympics is the main goal, but a smaller goal for me is the European games.”
The final day of the Grand Prix will feature the men’s -68kg competition and the women’s -57kg, where home favourite Jade Jones will seek to land GB’s first gold of the meeting.