By Yoo Jee-ho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- For years, South Korean taekwondo fighter Oh Hye-ri has had to live with the tag of a second stringer.
And thanks to her first Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro Friday, the 28-year-old finally took the center stage.
Oh became the oldest South Korean taekwondo medalist, by beating Haby Niare of France 13-12 in a dazzling final.
Oh had won a slew of domestic titles, but aside from her 2015 world title in -73kg, Oh had struggled internationally.
She finally made her Olympic debut this year in her third try. In the national team trials for the 2008 Beijing Games, she lost out to Hwang Kyung-seon, the eventual gold medalist. Oh graciously served as Hwang's training partner.
Before the trials for the 2012 London Olympics, Oh suffered a thigh injury, as Hwang again got the nod and defended her gold medal.
The third time was the charm for Oh, who said her victory over Niare seemed surreal.
Oh Hye-ri of South Korea (R) applies a kick to the face of France's Haby Niare during the final of the women's -67kg taekwondo at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Aug. 19, 2016. (Yonhap)
"I've always done the best I could, but I have finished second many times," Oh said. "Today, I gave it my all and the result was fantastic. I've been really happy just getting ready for the Olympics. Everything has been perfect."
When told she was the oldest South Korean to win a taekwondo medal, Oh said with a smile, "Is that a problem?"
She added the late start to her Olympic career afforded her a proper perspective.
"If I had made the Olympic team at an earlier age, I don't think I would have appreciated this opportunity," she said. "I don't think I have that much time left in the sport. I was just grateful for the opportunity to train. I got to enjoy even the most rigorous workouts."
She said she went back to the drawing board with her coaches to figure out what had gone wrong in the past.
"I felt I was lacking something and that there was a reason I was losing (internationally)." she said. "And I started doing weight training more earnestly. It's been a long day here and I never felt like I was running out of gas. I knew I was prepared."
Oh Hye-ri of South Korea holds up her gold medal from the women's -67kg taekwondo at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Aug. 19, 2016. (Yonhap)
She is at a point in her career where most others would contemplate retirement. Oh said she was only thinking about Friday's final and nothing else beyond it. She said she will think more about her future on her 24-hour flight back home.
Oh did admit she'd like a chance to compete at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, because she's never been to one.
As for her "second stringer" tag, Oh quipped, "It's what you in the media created. I hope you change it now."