Formidable fighters provide vision of taekwondo’s future
The taekwondo stars of tomorrow showed the world what they are capable of across five days of exciting competition at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018. Sharing the golds out at the Youth Olympic Park’s Oceania Pavilion were fighters from Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Morocco.
Russia’s Polina Shcherbakova landed the first taekwondo gold of Buenos Aires 2018 in the women’s -44 kg category, defeating Korea’s Mireu Kang 12-6 in the final, with all 12 of her points coming from attacking strikes.
“I’ve had to win five competitions just to get into the Youth Olympics,” said Shcherbakova. “I’ve been really nervous all day and just trying so hard to keep calm and concentrate. Now I’m looking forward to going home to my three cats in St Petersburg.”
The bronze was shared by Croatia’s Lena Stojkovic, who lost in the closing seconds of her semi-final against Kang, and Mexico’s Alicia Monserrat Rodriguez Fuentes.
The opening day of the taekwondo competition ended with Russia’s Dmitrii Shishko beating Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Rashitov 11-8 in the men’s -48 kg final. Tunisia’s Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi and Korea’s Im Seong-bin completed the podium. Day two saw Elizaveta Ryandninskaya and Giorgii Popov maintain Russia’s golden run with victories in the women’s -49 kg and men’s -55 kg categories respectively. Ryandninskaya overcame the USA’s Anastasija Zolotic 17-16 in the day’s first final, having earlier recorded 6-5 victories over Vietnam’s Thi Kim Ngan Ho and China’s Zihan Cao.
“I can’t believe it,” said a delighted Ryandninskaya. “There are so many emotions in my head right now. I always thought I could win the gold because I prepared very hard for it. Russia have got some good taekwondo fighters and coaches, and we all help each other to get good results.”
Popov then took his turn to top the podium, after beating Korea’s Kim Kang-min 33-26 in their gold medal bout. The Russian had earlier seen off Japan’s Hidetaka Maeda 34-13 and Nigeria’s Mahamadou Maharana Amadou’t 33-13.
“I am so happy to win this gold,” said Popov. “Winning these four titles is so important, and it’s going to make the Russian team stronger.”
Saengsin and Cho ones to watch
The Oceania Pavilion was full to capacity once more for day three, which produced more thrilling action on the tatami. In the women’s -55 kg competition, Thailand’s Kanthida Saengsin kicked off with a hard-fought 3-2 defeat of China’s Junli Yang in the quarter-finals, before easing to a 7-3 semi-final win over Greece’s Fani Tzeli and then sealing gold with an impressive 10-6 triumph against Morocco’s Safia Salih.
In the men’s event of the day, Korea’s Cho Won-hee began his run to the -63kg gold medal with an explosive 41-21 win over Argentina’s Ramiro Ravachino in the quarters. Then came an altogether tighter 15-13 defeat of Azerbaijan’s Javad Aghayev, followed by a title-clinching 21-16 victory at the expense of Thailand’s Nareupong Thepsen.
“It’s an honour for me to represent my country and to have the Republic of Korea flag raised,” said Cho. “It’s my last junior competition, and winning this title means I’ve achieved all my goals. My aim now is to shine at senior level and compete at the Olympic Games.”
Iranian fighters have their day
Day four belonged to the fighters of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as Ali Eshikevarian and Yalda Valinejad won the country’s first gold medals of Buenos Aires 2018, in the men’s -73 kg and women’s -63 kg events respectively.
A narrow 19-17 winner against Chinese Taipei’s Qiu Hong Shen, Eshikevarian enjoyed a more comfortable 29-5 victory over Ecuador’s Darlyn Padilla in the semis before taking on Belgium’s Badr Achab in the gold medal bout. Eshikevarian once again had to dig deep to make the gold his, closing out a thrilling 17-16 win.
Valinejad enjoyed a smoother ride to gold than her compatriot. Opening up with a 12-2 quarter-final victory over Jordan’s Natali Lyad Adnan Hamaidi, the Iranian had to work slightly harder in earning a 26-22 win against Mexico’s Leslie Xcaret Soltero Garcia. The 17-year-old Valinejad then defeated Nadica Bozanic 23-17 to secure the gold, which she celebrated by waving her national flag before a large and appreciative crowd.
Medal joy for Morocco
The last women’s taekwondo medal of Buenos Aires 2018 was claimed by Fatima-Ezzahra Aboufaras of Morocco in the women’s +63 kg. Aboufaras, who was given a first-round bye on account of her lofty position in the world rankings, cruised to the final, beating Poland’s Marcelina Marta Koszel 20-4 in the quarter-finals and China’s Wenzhe Mu 17-2 in the semis.
In the battle for gold, the 16-year-old Moroccan displayed all her power and technique to edge to a tight 18-16 win over the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Kimia Hemati. “I’m overjoyed,” Aboufaras said afterwards. “Morocco needed this medal. I’ve been training for a long time to win this gold, even here in Buenos Aires. My coach is like a father to me. When I won, my first thoughts were for him.”
Mohammadali Khosravi of the Islamic Republic of Iran claimed the last of the taekwondo golds on offer when he beat Chinese Taipei’s Meng-En Lee 2-1 in an engrossing and intense duel for the men’s +73kg title.
“I’ve been training very hard and I think I deserved to win the tournament,” said Khosravi. “Iran is a big power in this sport, even in the women’s category, because the women work with us and they raise their standards even higher than us. It was a very difficult fight. I am very happy I won.”
Russia ended the taekwondo competition atop the medal table with four golds, ahead of the Islamic Republic of Iran with three. The Republic of Korea’s fighters also distinguished themselves, collecting five medals in all.