Ruth Gbagbi has left an indelible mark on Ivory Coast’s taekwondo legacy, making significant contributions, including her Olympic bronzes at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, and a world title in 2017. Known for her instinctive fighting style and a unique “jump reverse turning kick,” Gbagbi’s remarkable talent has garnered admiration from the taekwondo community.
Philippe Bouedo, a highly experienced taekwondo fighter, coach, and official who served as World Taekwondo’s technical delegate at the Tokyo 2020 Games, praised Ruth’s abilities. He said, “Ruth is very powerful and very creative. She has a full palette of techniques.” While Gbagbi humbly describes herself as “a fighter,” her actions on the mat reflect a fearless approach to competition.
During the Rio Olympics, Gbagbi achieved her first Olympic bronze medal on the same night her compatriot, Cheick Sallah Cissé, clinched gold in the men’s 80 kilograms category with a last-second head kick against Britain’s Lutalo Muhummad. Gbagbi secured her place on the women’s Olympic 67 kilograms podium with a victory over Azerbaijan’s Farida Azizova.
In the following year, she claimed the World Taekwondo title in Muju, South Korea, defeating Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin 19-9 in the final. Bouedo celebrated her dynamic style, saying, “She is the perfect aspect of taekwondo – we want to show people how exciting the game is. In championships, some players minimize risk, but not Gbagbi. She has no limits.”
Gbagbi’s journey in taekwondo began at the age of eight. She shared, “When I was young, I liked to fight in the streets. So my mom told me to try taekwondo, and now I’m a world champion. She’s very proud of me.” Her incredible achievements certainly validate her mother’s advice.
Gbagbi added another Olympic medal to her collection in Tokyo, securing a 12-8 victory over Brazil’s Milena Titoneli. While she faced a semi-final defeat by Britain’s Lauren Williams, who went on to win the silver medal, Gbagbi’s tenacity remained evident.
In 2021, Ruth Gbagbi was named an ambassador for the culture of peace by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This honor recognized her exceptional contribution to promoting peace and unity. Gbagbi expressed her gratitude for the appointment, considering it an “honor.”
Ruth Gbagbi’s journey continues to impress. In September 2022, she won the women’s under-67kg gold at the Paris World Taekwondo Grand Prix. Her victory in the final against the emerging South Korean athlete Min-Seo Nam marked her fourth Grand Prix gold in her illustrious career.
The Pursuit of Gold
While Gbagbi is already celebrated as a national heroine, there is one medal that has eluded her – Olympic gold. Unsatisfied with her two bronze medals from Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, she has set her sights on the Paris 2024 Olympics. She shares her hope, saying, “I will give my all to go to Paris 2024 and win gold.” With her determination and remarkable skill, Ruth Gbagbi continues to be a source of inspiration for aspiring taekwondo athletes worldwide.