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.
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 Ulugbek Rashitov gave gold to his Uzbek opponent.
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.
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.
It was a tough loss to take for Sinden, who said: “It’s a bit hard when you get silver. 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.
“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.
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.”