China’s Yujie Li recalls defining moment in Para taekwondo

Surprise world champion affirms goal for Tokyo 2020 next year  10 Aug 2020
Yujie Li
POWERPACKED: (R) Yujie Li in action against Turkey's Gamze Gurdal at the 2019 World Para Taekwondo Championships in Antalya, Turkey.
ⒸTurkey Taekwondo Federation
By Zhen Ma and Ros Dumlao | For the IPC

Taekwondo athlete Yujie Li was hit with a wave of emotion when she stood on the podium and heard China’s national anthem play. 

She cried, realising she became China’s first world champion in the sport, and seeing her potential ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics next year.

“Actually, I didn’t react after winning the final at the time,” Li recalled about the 2019 World Championships in Antalya, Turkey. “But instead I went to my coach as usual, and he said ‘You did it!’ 

“At the same time, other athletes were surprised at my victory. Especially during the awards ceremony, many players came to greet and congratulate me. I was crying all the time during the ceremony.

“I felt that my hard work over the past two years had not been in vain. I realised I added another World Championships gold medal into team China’s history, and I was the person who took the first step in taekwondo for my country.”

Her World title spiced up the women’s up to 58kg K44. She rose from an unknown to current world No. 2, just behind Denmark’s Lisa Gjessing, one of the most prolific fighters in Para taekwondo. The two faced off at the 2019 Worlds, but then-undefeated Gjessing had to withdraw due to injury. This allowed Li to progress to the final against Serbia’s Marija Micev. “Before going to Turkey, I held a ‘have a try’ mentality,” Li said. “I just wanted to show what I learned from training.”

“Looking back at the process of participating in the 2019 World Championships, I was very nervous in the first combat because it was my first major international event, and more importantly, I was facing a home athlete and the Turkish spectators brought me great pressure with their cheering. 

“At that time, my coach shared with me his experience of competing in Turkey as an athlete and helped me mentally adjust. Finally, I withstood the pressure and won the fight.”

The nerves returned as Tokyo 2020 approached. But in March, the Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. She said the news “eased my mental pressure to a certain degree.

“With this preparation period of more than one year, I will have more time to make up for the lack of basic skills and better adjust my mindset,” Li said, reassuring, “I will for sure go and fight for the gold.”

The national team has not trained since late March. However, she kept training in the Qingdao training centre but is not allowed to leave the complex.

“During this period, sometimes my mood was down due to the closed environment, and my way of relieving stress is watching movies,” Li commented.

Li’s right arm was amputated when she was in primary school following a firework accident. But her passion for sports did not diminish. In middle school, she tried out for the field and track team. While competing in a provincial athletics championship, she met a taekwondo coach who saw her potential.

“Since practicing taekwondo, I became stronger and more confident,” said the world champion. “After you have overcome the difficulties in training, the difficulties in life are nothing. And I have never felt inferior because of the physical disability since then.”