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Sunday, August 29, 2004
Moon KOs Greek fighter for gold

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- South Korea's Moon Dae-sung unleashed a wicked roundhouse kick that knocked out local favorite Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece in the first round of Sunday's taekwondo heavyweight final.

Moon was leading 1-0 when he landed a high kick to the Greek fireman's head. The blow knocked Nikolaidis' helmet askew and he collapsed on the mat for several seconds before officials helped him up.

Nikolaidis got the silver medal, while Pascal Gentil of France defended his bronze from the 2000 Sydney Games in the over 80-kilogram category, beating Jordan's Ibrahim Kamal 6-2.

Moon said his knockout kick was a "mistake.''

"My left leg is not very strong. I was busy defending myself and he stepped on me with his right foot, so I kicked him with my left foot without realizing that I knocked him out,'' he said.

Moon missed the Sydney Games after injury troubles in training and said he became depressed for a while afterward.

"After this victory I have forgotten everything,'' he said.

In the women's 67-kilogram final, China's Chen Zhong fought off an assault from Myriam Baverel of France and won 12-5 to defend her gold medal from Sydney.

Adriana Carmona of Venezuela took the bronze.

Moon, the 1999 world champion, raised his hands in celebration while Nikolaidis regained his bearings.

After several minutes, the Korean went over to his opponent and the pair embraced before Moon held the Greek's arm up, to the crowd's delight. They paraded around the arena hand in hand.

"I was touched,'' Nikolaidis said. "I've known him for many years. We've trained together and he's the man I have the best relations with in taekwondo.''

Nikolaidis is 6 feet 7, and most of his competitors have a difficult time lifting their legs high enough to connect with his target points. The 6-3 Moon caught Nikolaidis off guard and landed the rarest of knockout kicks to claim his first Olympic gold medal.

"I have had many knockouts in my 20 years in taekwondo and I can't count them,'' Moon said. "When you fight someone on the same level it is rare, but it is quite common when you face weaker opponents.''

Nikolaidis broke his leg during the 2000 Sydney Games and was out two years before returning to the sport in 2002.

"The truth is I don't remember much,'' he said. "It all happened so quickly. I started with a lot of enthusiasm and it seems I paid for it.''

With 8,000 mostly Greek fans filling every seat of the seaside Sports Pavilion, the atmosphere at the martial arts contest resembled a rock concert. The match pitted the Olympic hosts against a South Korean competitor who hails from the ancient birthplace of the sport.

Fans chanted "Hellas'' -- the Greek word for Greece -- and "Nikol-aidis, Nikol-aidis'' -- even after their countryman was knocked out.