CHELYABINSK, Russia (May 12, 2015) – The opening ceremony of the 2015 World Taekwondo Championships featured dancers, acrobats, ninja turtles, robots and - for the first time ever - a joint demonstration by the two major bodies that administer the sport globally.
Chelyabinsk’s Traktor Arena was transformed into a fantasy festival as the opening ceremony of the championships got underway. It blended dance, music, laser lights, acrobatics and – of course – two jaw-dropping displays of martial virtuosity.
Things opened with live music and Central Asia-themed dance routines. Following this, schoolchildren, dancing to a pulsating turbo techno beat, flooded the floor, where they were joined by a zany collection of armored knights, pirates, robots - even a duo of ninja turtles.
From the arena floor, two cloth galleons were unfurled, acrobats scaled ropes dangling from the ceiling and the ships ascended into the air on chains. Below, dancers in billowing blue and green costumes represented the motions of rolling waves. A mass of dancers, trampoline performers and acrobats created further tableaus.
After this fantasia - which took up the first half of the ceremony – the event turned its attention to the main business at hand: taekwondo.
Lines of Russian children dressed in red, white and blue doboks – reflecting the color and design of the Russian tricolor – performed synchronized poomsae and a series of “Mexican waves” representing the flag fluttering.
This was followed by the march-on of a giant WTF banner carried in by Russian Olympic medalists. Then the flags of the 139 participating nations entered the arena; that of the Russian Federation predictably drew the biggest cheer.
Senior officials – Governor of Chelyabinsk Boris Dubrovskiy; WTF President Chungwon Choue; Deputy Minister of Sports of the Russian Federation Pavel Novikov; and Russian Taekwondo Union President Anatoly Terekhov - were introduced and delivered brief speeches. Referring to the upcoming joint demonstration, Choue said, “From this evening, taekwondo is one!”
A special message from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was read out. Calling taekwondo “… a source of empowerment for men and women across the world,” the message added that the upcoming joint demonstration featuring Koreans from both halves of the peninsula was “breaking barriers” and would be “a step toward dialog and reconciliation.”
IOC President Thomas Bach delivered a pre-recorded broadcast speech in which he said he “valued the cooperation” between the two federations, which he maintained, was “in the best interest of the sport and athletes.” The joint demonstration laid, he continued, “a firm foundation for the future.”
The athletes’ and referees’ oaths were read out, then the arena rose to its feet as a female chorus sang the Russian national anthem. There was a brief performance of South Urals line dancing, then came the evening’s climax as- for the first time in taekwondo history - demonstrators from the ITF and the WTF shared a floor.
Taekwondo is administered globally by two major bodies: The International Taekwondo Federation, or ITF, and the World Taekwondo Federation, or WTF. The ITF is headquartered in Vienna and includes North Korea in its membership; the WTF is headquartered in Seoul and Lausanne and includes South Korea among its members. Olympic taekwondo is administered exclusively by the WTF.
The performances – each 20 minutes long – illustrated both what unites and divides the two federations.
The ITF demonstration team, largely North Koreans, but including Russians and Czechs, came on first. Coordinated group poomsae and a display of break-falling – a skill rarely seen in WTF taekwondo - was followed by combat line drills. A trio of female athletes in black demonstrated self-defense and a choreographed fight routine against male “attackers” that drew both gasps and laughs from the audience.
Advanced breaks included an aerial split kick-round kick combo, and a somersaulting double heel-kick break. Further group fights featured such unusual techniques as head butts, drop spinning sweeps, sacrifice throws and aerial leg takedowns.
The male performers then removed their dobok tunics – revealing toned physiques and drawing a few wolf whistles – and endured strikes across their limbs and torsos from four-by-twos. A final power-breaking demonstration left the field of play littered with splintered timber.
Then it was the WTF’s turn. Though mainly South Korean, the team included a Turk and three Russians. The difference between the two demonstration teams was clear just from attire: The ITF appeared in classic white; the WTF in red and yellow, blue and white. Another difference was presentation: The ITF had used no aural backing; the WTF team performed to piped-in music.
The opening was shear showmanship: A tableau of punches and kicks against a backdrop of the flags of Russia and the WTF. After a lighting costume change, came a funky fusion of poomsae and modern dance. The tempo changed when the team’s head coach performed a set of power breaks, then the team carried out blindfold breaks – with the strikes being guided onto target by hand bells.
This was followed by a series of brilliantly coordinated breaks in which both the holders and the board breaker were leaping and spinning. Things changed again with Slavic dancing and a display of the Russian national colors, followed by more breaking. The iconic Korean folk song “Arirang” played as the team performed poomse, before a final pair of high kicks unfurled banners advertising the Chelyabinsk championships.
Yet if the ITF demonstration could be classified as traditional and the WTF as creative; if the ITF team focused more on power and the WTF more on finesse; if the ITF show was low tech, and the WTF high tech; it was evident that the majority of actual techniques shown had more similarities than differences.
This was illustrated in the ceremony’s finale. The Russian youth taekwondo performers joined the WTF and ITF teams to perform a series of basic movements, before all crowded on-stage for a group photo.
And that was it: The conclusion to a historic evening.