TAIYUAN, China (October 11, 2023) - There are no killer cats stalking the hot sands of North Africa, but don’t tell that to Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi.
“We don’t have lion in Tunisia,” he said. “That’s me!”
The 21-year-old resident of his country’s Olympic City has plenty to roar about, following his Oct. 10 battle in the final of the M-58kg category against Korean superstar Jang Jun.
It was a clash of styles. Jendoubi is a long, leggy headhunter. Jang is an all-rounder: an accurate kicker with excellent defensive footwork.
Round 1 was a messy, low-scoring affair with both men trying varied techniques but clashing into clinches. Jang won after landing just one kick.
Action accelerated in the second after Jenboubi swiftly found the range, landing an arcing head kick to capture an early lead – which he maintained for the rest of the round. All would be decided in the third.
Jenboudi’s head kick drew first blood. Jang returned fire, evened the scores and drew ahead - before it was levelled at six points each with 20 seconds left to play.
Those seconds were fast and furious with the referee working overtime to separate both men as they repeatedly clashed into the clinch with simultaneous attacks. It ended with Jendoubi’s crescent kick sealing the victory.
“I was so happy, so proud of our work in the last months,” he said. “I was so tired.”
It had been a long, hard day.
“Yesterday was a difficult competition,” he recalled. “We had a hard draw, with such strong athletes, from the first match to the final.”
With his tall, leggy physique, Jendoubi is custom built for the sport. He is also custom trained: He started Taekwondo at age four under the coaching of his father - a relationship which continues to this day - and currently wears a third dan black belt.
He credits his long legs and high, arcing crescent kick, which he deploys to the head from both all ranges, with his win.
“I can use the crescent kick right and left, it is the favorite kick in my Taekwondo,” he said. “Height, speed and timing of kicks are my advantages.”
Those kicks were plain for all to see, but Jendoubi is reluctant to discuss his game plan against Jang.
“It’s a secret!” he said. “I’ll fight him again!”
That looks certain, given the long shadow that Jang – who was fighting in Taiyuan immediately after capturing Asia Games gold in Hangzhou - casts over the category
“He was a strong fighter in the final, he is a very good athlete,” Jendoubi said of Jang. “I was always watching him when he fought before, and now I fought with him and beat him yesterday.”
Having seized silver in Tokyo, Jendoubi is a fixture on the top-level circuit. But Taiyuan was his first Grand Prix victory.
“I have four silvers and one bronze at the GP,” he said. “Now, this is my first gold!”
Like many athletes, Jendoubi - who, when he is not on the mats is studying for a degree in sport - is focused on the next competition rather than the long-term future.
“I’ll be fighting in Manchester at the GP Final and after we will take some rest, and maybe a training camp,” he said. “It’s good, preparing for the big dream.”
Preparing is something he thinks about a great deal. His favorite viewing is the hit Netflix series “Lupin” about a French super thief.
“He is such a smart man,” Jendoubi said. “When he does something he prepares everything.”
Paris will be his third Olympics: In addition to Tokyo 2020 silver, he won Youth Olympic bronze in Buenos Aires 2018. So the “big dream” is – what?
“I want to get the third Olympics medal - I will be ready,” he said. “Minimum, I want – Inshallah - to get to the final.”
That is going to take a colossal amount of training, but he knows that despite all his blood, sweat and tears, Taekwondo cannot offer the financial rewards of mainstream sports with mass viewerships.
However, having started the Way of Foot and Fist soon after he learned to walk, he is not complaining.
“Taekwondo is not like football or basketball, but I like this sport and would not change it for anything,” he said. “I like what I do: If I am not training, I don’t feel good.”