BAKU, Azerbaijan (May 31, 2023) - As the Baku 2023 World Taekwondo Championships approached the midway point, the athletes of the men’s-80kg and -87kg and women’s-49kg put on a show with some of the best matches of the tournament resulting in golds for Italy, Türkiye and Korea.
In the men’s-80kg Italy’s Simone Alessio stayed true to form to win gold. The Italian won athlete of the year in 2022 after winning the Rome and Paris Grand Prix and the Grand Prix final in Riyadh. Having won gold at the 2019 World Championships in the -74kg category his victory here in Baku makes him a two-time, two-weight World Champion. The silver medal went to a deserving Carl Alan Nickolas of the USA and bronze medals were won by Colombia’s Miguel Trejos Salas and Olympic and World Championships bronze medallist Seif Eissa.
In the women’s-49kg, Türkiye Merve Dincel demonstrated she is a force to be reckoned with as the new World Champion. A relative underdog in the final as she faced Rio Olympic champion and two-time World champion, Panipak Wongpattanakit of Thailand. Dincel was not overawed and for the second time this year beat the Thai to win her first World title and send a strong message in the weight category. Bronze medals went to Spain’s Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Adriana Cerezo Iglesias and Roma 2022 Grand Prix silver medallist Bruna Duvancic
In the men’s-87kg, Sanghyun Kang came into the competition on the back of a bronze medal in Grand Slam in Wuxi this year. However, as his first appearance in a World Championships it was unclear how this would translate. The Korean did not disappoint, delivering one of the fights of the tournament so far in the semi-final against Iran’s Arian Salimi and claiming the world title. Silver was won by number two seed Ivan Sapina from Croatia and the bronze medals were shared by Iran’s Salimi and Individual Neutral Athlete (AIN) Artsiom Plonis.
In the men’s-80kg it was a repeat of the Paris 2022 Grand Prix semi final with Alessio facing USA’s Nickolas. The first round was frantic and frenetic with both men tussling in the centre of the mat without being able to register any points. The round finished 0-0 but went to Alessio courtesy of his larger number of registered kicks. Nickolas called for a video replay on whether Alessio had left the mat before the round ended and therefore was due a Gam-jeom but the call was rejected. In the second round a similar pattern followed. Alessio was the first to score points with a front leg kick. Nickolas pushed to even the score forcing Alessio off the mat but it was not enough and the Italian won gold after a second round 2-1 win.
In the semi finals, Alessio’s narrowly edged past Colombia’s Trejos Salas after a scoreless first round went to the Italian virtue of his higher number of kicks. The former World Champion won the second round 4-2 to win the match. Nickolas caused an upset in his semi-final beating number two seed Eissa of Egypt 2-0. A close fought first round score of 2-0 to Nickolas was followed up with a more dominating 10-5 second round win.
The women’s final was one to remember with Dincel facing the legendary Wongpattanakit. Dincel known for being an aggressive fighter was aware of not getting caught by Wongpattanakit’s trademark front leg. Both fighters know each other well and cancelled each other out with no registrations until the final 15 seconds when a punch from Wongpattanakit registered without scoring. It was enough to give the Thai the win when the round finished 0-0. In the second round, a twisting kick gave Dincel a 2-0 lead but a response from Wongpattanakit evened the scores. The round looked like it would end in another draw which would be awarded to Wongpattanakit but Dincel landed a body kick in the last second to win 4-2. Two head shots gave Dincel a healthy lead in the third round with a minute to go. As Wongpattanakit chased points Dincel picked off another head kick. In a round of head kicks Wongpattanakit landed one of her own but it wasn’t enough and Dincel won the round and match 11-4.
Dincel narrowly overcame Cerezo Iglesias in the semi-final with points unable to separate the fighters in the first round and the Turk winning courtesy of a higher number of kicks registered. The second round was close again but Dincel pulled away in the last 20 seconds. In the second semi-final Duvancic caused an upset stealing the first round with a punch to win 4-3. But Wongpattanakit showed her experience to fight back and win the second round 12-3 and third round 9-1.
In the men’s final, a punch from Sapina gave the Croatian an early lead against Kang. But a back leg push kick followed by a Gam-jeom and a back hand punch gave Kang a 4-1 lead. A kick to the body from Sapina, immediately followed by Kang brought the scores to 6-4. A Gam-jeom meant the first round finished 6-5 to Kang. In the second round Sapina took an early lead with a front leg chop kick to the head. 6-1 up, Kang landed a kick to the body to bring the score within three. Twist kicks back-to-back gave Kang the lead for the first time in the round. Another kick to the body was enough for Kang to win the round 9-7 and secure the gold medal.
The first semi final was a one of the fights of the World Championships with Kang and Salimi landing simultaneous kicks. Kang won the first round 9-6. The second round was no less exciting with 18 points scored by the two fighters in 15 seconds but Salimi claimed it by virtue of a higher number of kicks registered after the round finished all square. After an energy-sapping second round the third round was lower scoring and Kang won 7-6. In the second semi, Plonis performed strongly in the first round using his height advantage well to win 9-3. Sapina fought back well in the second round to win 4-2. A triple headshot from Sapina in the third round gave the Croatian a healthy lead and he won the final round 15-1
Tomorrow will see the men’s-63kg and women’s+73kg categories compete in the World Championships.