The pressure is on for the top fighters at the 2019 World Para Taekwondo Championships set to run from 5-6 February in Antalya, Turkey. Maximum ranking points are up for grabs, with the competition medallists taking a major step towards the sport’s Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
The eighth edition sees nearly 400 athletes from 69 nations – almost twice as many as the last edition in 2017 – competing for Worlds medals. Seven new nations are represented for the first time, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Switzerland, Tanzania and Uganda.
Turkey has the most fighters competing with 56, making it possible for the host – a nation dominant in taekwondo – to make the podium in all 12 medal events.
Those 12 divisions will be combined into six for the Paralympic competition next year, and Turkey hope to qualify the maximum six athletes.
The up to 61 kg K44 division could feature a Turkish battle for medals. World No. 2 Mahmut Bozteke could face his compatriot Ali Can Ozcan. Ozcan defeated his Bozteke at the Turkish Championships in January.
“I cannot give a clear answer to who will be champion of 61 kg,” said Ozcan, “but my first goal is to be world champion, even if that means beating my brother [Bozteke]”.
Big names to know
Denmark’s Lisa Gjessing added a fourth European crown to her four world titles in 2018. She has now picked up nine straight tournament wins since taking up the sport in 2013 and remains the sport’s only undefeated fighter.
France’s Bopha Kong said he hoped to win every tournament on the calendar in 2018. He did just that, winning six events, including all four continental championships. His last loss was the 2017 Worlds, where he had to settle for silver. The Worlds have proven difficult for the division’s dominant fighter over the last decade, as he has just three golds in seven Worlds.
Great Britain’s Amy Truesdale saw a reversal of fortune last year. After claiming her first world title on home soil as part of an undefeated 2017, she lost three times in 2018. That said, she capped the year with a Pan American Championship title and will look to get back on track in Antalya.
Both Niger’s Ismael Oumarou Gouzae and South Korea’s Jeonghun Joo shocked top seeds at major tournaments last year, making them new names to watch at the Worlds.
Following an impressive breakout year, 2020 Paralympic hosts Japan enter Antalya with legitimate medal hopes for the first time. Keep your eyes on 2018 Kimunyong Cup champions Kenta Awatari (up to 61 kg K43) and Shunsuke Kudo (up to 75 kg K44) to see if they can become Japan’s first world champions.
Another athlete to watch is Brazilian teenager Nathan Torquato. He medalled at all three international competitions last year, including a silver at the Pan Americans.
Too close to call
While the top three fighters in the women’s up to 49 kg division are comfortably ahead in the rankings, six fighters are within 20 points for fourth place – the final automatic qualification spot for Tokyo 2020. Uzbekistan’s Ziyodakhon Isakova currently holds the spot, but she must hold off Russia’s Anna Poddubskaia among others.
Spanish legend Alejandro Vidal Alvarez currently has a secure hold on the No. 2 ranking in the up to 61 kg K43, nearly 100 points up on Canada’s Anthony Cappello. With only two fighters gaining automatic qualification in the division, an early exit could complicate things. But Alvarez seems to rise to the occasion – he has made the final in six of seven Worlds and has won gold in four of the last five.
Most unpredictable division
If 2018 taught us one thing, it is to expect that anything can happen in the men’s over 75 kg K44 division. Four different fighters were crowned champion at the four continental championships last year, with six different athletes making the finals.
Russia’s Aliskhab Ramazanov stunned the division by winning gold at the 2017 Worlds. At the same tournament, Iran’s two-time world champion Asghar Aziziaghdam crashed out in the round of 16.
This year’s tournament features four previous world champions (Ramazanov, Aziziaghdam, Croatia’s Ivan Mikulic, and Turkey’s Bayram Kayan), a Worlds runner-up (Russia’s Zainutdin Ataev), and last tournament’s top-ranked fighter (USA’s No. 2-ranked Evan Medell). With just four automatic qualification spots for the 2020 Paralympics, and eight serious challengers jockeying for rankings points, the men’s over 75 kg K44 is the division to watch in Turkey.
*Editor's note: The International Paralympic Committee suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee on 7 August 2016 for its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory). As a result of the suspension, Russian athletes cannot enter IPC sanctioned events or competitions, including the Paralympic Games