The first two taekwondo competitions of the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 were held at Oceania Pavilion on Sunday, with medals awarded in the women’s -44kg category and the men’s -48kg.
Russia’s Polina Shcherbakova beat Mireu Kang of Republic of Korea to claim gold in the women’s event, and afterwards described her relief at coming away with a medal.
“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 bronzes went to Mexico’s Alicia Monserrat Rodriguez Fuentes and Lena Stojkovic of Croatia, who is no stranger to the limelight, having starred on a reality TV show in her native country.
“I was part of a group from my taekwondo club and our coach entered us for this Croatian talent show on national TV,” explained the 16-year-old. “It’s a bit like the Croatian version of American Idol – so it’s dancing, singing, any kind of talent. We had this act, which involved some fighting, self-defence, various things all incorporated into a routine.
“I was in second grade at elementary school, so I was just 10 at the time, and because I was the smallest, the climax of the act was that I would beat everybody else and send them all flying. We made it all the way to the semis and then the audience voted and we were close, but we didn’t get to the final.”
Stojkovic found herself recognised for a while after the show ended. Now that she is older, however, she is happy to be making a new name for herself as a serious athlete. “At the time it was really cool, and the others were all older than me, so I had a lot of fun,” she said. “Now I’m a bit shy and I’m a little ashamed of it.”
The men’s -48kg gold went to Russia’ Dmitrii Shishko, who overcame Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Rashitov in the final. Taking the bronzes were Tunisia’s Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi and Seongbin Im of Republic of Korea.
Stojkovic and her compatriot Josip Teskera, who lost out to Shishko in the quarter-finals, are now looking forward to indulging in some fast food after weeks of dieting to make the YOG weight restrictions.
“It’s tough, but it’s a challenge all fighters face,” said Teskera. “I had to lose three kilos last week to make the weight, and I’m one of the shorter ones in my category. Some of the other guys lost four to five kilos. I’m looking forward to having a burger in the next few days.”
Stojkovic has been on a diet for six months to ensure she arrived in Buenos Aires in peak condition. “I haven’t eaten any junk food since April,” she said. “You have to do it because everybody else does but I’ve been craving cake all summer, and I’m definitely going to celebrate with that tonight.”