Early mistake costs NZ taekwondo fighter

Last updated 18:51 23/08/2008

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New Zealander Matt Beach finished his Olympic taekwondo over-80kg bout against China's Xiaobo Liu cursing an early mistake which left him on the back foot for the rest of the match.

Up against the 2m-tall, 104kg Liu, Beach didn't look overwhelmed, but never really threatened in the round of 16 match, eventually going down 1-4 after trailing 1-2 at the end of the second round.

"I made a bit of a mistake early on, got a point down and then I was playing catch-up the whole time," Beach told NZPA.

The 30-year-old Wellingtonian said he enjoyed the experience - even the huge waves of cheering and support for the local favourite.

"I tried to pretend they were a crowd cheering for me, and I was a gladiator going into an arena," he said.

Beach had plenty of support hidden in the crowd, with chants of "Xiexielan" - New Zealand in Mandarin - punctuating the gaps in the hometown cheering.

"I felt really good going into the bout; the body felt fine, my fitness was good. I gave it my best, but there was that stupid mistake early on," Beach said.

It has been a long wait to finally get his Olympics underway.

Today is the last day of competition, and he admitted it had been hard work watching other athletes compete, then be able to relax.

"It's been tough, I've been going out to train in the morning and some of the boys are coming home from a night out. I'd rather have it in the middle of the Games, but that's no excuse today. I got beaten by a better player."

Whether or not he progresses to the bronze medal repechage depends on whether Liu, the current Asian champion, makes the final.

He battles Cuban and Sydney 2000 under-80kg gold medallist Angel Valodia Matos, of Cuba, in the quarterfinals, then could come up against favoured Korean Dongmin Cha in the semifinals.

Beach has represented New Zealand since 1996, after getting involved in taekwondo as a 10-year-old, and has been aiming for the Olympics since missing out for the 2000 Games.

"I tried for Sydney but didn't make it and I've been going for this ever since. It's hard because I've been working fulltime as well, but I'm lucky my employer (Immigration New Zealand) have been really supportive."

Now, Beach said he could think about getting other areas in his life back on track.

"It's a bit funny - you go out there for six minutes and it's all over. I've put a lot of things on hold - my relationship, my job - I really need to start thinking about things like that again."

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And there's the small matter of once again being able to relax with the occasional beer.

"I haven't had a beer since I qualified (six months ago). I'm gagging for it!"

-NZPA

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