Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan each qualify two fighters, Iran adds one more.
By Lee Reaney for World Para Taekwondo
With the weight of a nation that birthed the sport on his shoulders, Jeonghun Joo allowed Korea to take a sigh of relief after qualifying in the men’s up to 75 kg division.
Korea, which has dominated Olympic taekwondo since it became an Olympic sport, avoided the embarrassment of not qualifying a single fighter for Para Taekwondo’s Paralympic debut with Joo’s victory in Amman, Jordan.
“It’s a lie if you don’t feel the pressure,” Joo told World Para Taekwondo. “It was difficult for Korea to participate in many competitions due to lack of budget. We could be higher in the rankings if we had a lot of money to play in the game.”
Fueled by impressive spin kicks and combinations, the No. 16-ranked Joo easily got past Mongolia’s Shinebayar Batbayar 53-17 in the final.
“It has been four years since I started Para Taekwondo”, he said, “Going to the Tokyo Paralympics will allow me to achieve my unfulfilled dream.”
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan Qualify Two Fighters Each
Top-seeded Ziyodakhon Isakova of Uzbekistan was made to work for her Paralympic license in the women’s up to 49 kg final.
Taking on a new fighter from Iran, the experienced Isakova – who has six international podiums under her (black) belt – fought through a neck-and-neck battle before pulling away in the third round for the victory.
Isakova credits an intensive training program to her success. Uzbekistan trained with the national teams of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. In total, eight fighters from the three countries qualified in this month’s qualification tournaments.
“When I was younger, I used to watch the athletes from other sports, or able-bodied Taekwondo athletes, and dream that one day I could also go to the Paralympic Games”, she told World Para Taekwondo. “Winning gold and listening to the national anthem of Uzbekistan and seeing our flag [rising] is what excites me the most.”
COVID Travel Issues Wreak Havoc on Asian Draw
With COVID rates spiking in countries like India and Nepal, several fighters were unable to travel to Jordan to compete in the last-chance qualification event.
Three fighters from India, including No. 2-seeded Aruna (women’s up to 49kg), and two fighters from Nepal, including top-seeded Palesha Goverdhan (women’s over 58kg), were unable to make the trip.
This resulted in three divisions not being contested at the event.
Instead, Kazakhstan will send two fighters to Tokyo – Nyshan Omirali (men’s over 75 kg) and Kamilya Dosmalova (women’s up to 58 kg).
“The Paralympic license for our country will inspire not only young people, but also people with disabilities”, Omirali told World Para Taekwondo, “To compete under the flag of our country gives me great pride – but so will winning a gold medal.”
Iran is In, Chinese Taipei Just Misses Out
In the fight of the tournament, Uzbekistan’s Asadbek Toshtemirov narrowly edged Chinese Taipei’s Chen Chien Chiang 39-36 in the men’s up to 61 kg final, denying the country a fighter at the 202One Paralympic Games.
Down by two with 32 seconds to go, Toshtemirov built a small lead and dodged a last-second spin kick to claim the win and a third spot for Uzbekistan at the Paralympic Games.
New to the sport, Iran’s Rayehe Shahab may be the least experienced fighter in Tokyo. She’ll look to former world champion teammates Mehdi Pourrahnama and Asghar Aziziaghdam for advice.
“Taekwondo is a competition with yourself”, she told World Para Taekwondo, “It’s a story of attempting to challenge yourself and learning how to solve the problems in your life.”
With the continental qualification tournaments now complete, the final Paralympic spots to be awarded by Bipartite Committee will be named on June 7.
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