Para taekwondo fighter Kenta Awatari continues to give Japan reason to cheer ahead of the sport’s debut at their home Paralympic Games in 2020.
August’s Kim Un Yong Cup in South Korea was Japan’s most successful international performance to date, as they won three gold medals and a bronze to push their fighters up the rankings. Awatari was among those to record his first international medal.
“[Our] competitiveness has increased due to more Japanese fighters,” said Japan’s No. 6 world ranked fighter, adding “there is great support from Japanese staff.”
Awatari completed a dominant 24-3 showing over Canada’s No. 3 Anthony Cappello in the men’s up to 61 kg K43. The result capped a strong 2018 for the promising talent, following his bronze at the Pan American Open Championships and a quarter final appearance at the European Open Championships.
“I’ve become confident I can compete at the Tokyo Paralympic Games,” he said. “It has become clear that I can fight [anyone] in the world.”
More Japanese success
After also winning Pan Am gold, Japan’s Mitsuya Tanaka edged closer to a top-five world ranking after capturing the Kim Un Yong Cup’s women’s up to 75 kg K43 title.
In an all-Japanese bout, young star Yusuke Hoshino bested top-ranked compatriot Chikaro Ito (No. 11) on his way to a bronze in the men’s up to 61 kg to move up to No. 23 in the rankings.
With bronze medals at the Pan Ams and Europeans, compatriot Shunsuke Kudo finally broke through with his first international title by beating Australia’s Steven Currie 18-14 in the men’s up to 75 kg K44 at the Kim Un Yong Cup. He became September’s highest climber in the world rankings, jumping eight spots to No. 22.
Oceania champions shine
The Kim Un Yong Cup served as the 2018 continental Championships for Oceania athletes, meaning there were additional world rankings points up for grabs.
Australia’s Steven Currie took advantage.
Four-time Oceania champion Currie may have fallen short of claiming the title, but his silver medal ensured he is still one of the fighters to beat in the region. He jumped three spots to No. 7 in the men’s under 75kg K42 world rankings.
Challenges for champions
The gold in August’s competition was a relief for Great Britain’s Amy Truesdale, who had a difficult 2018. After capping an undefeated 2017 with World Championship and International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Games titles, the women’s over 58 kg K44 No. 1 fighter was bested in three straight tournaments in 2018. The Kim Un Yong gold is therefore her first and only title of 2018.
“It is always special to compete in the birthplace of taekwondo,” said Truesdale. “Especially when you come home with a gold.”
Mongolia’s No. 1-ranked pair of fighters – Bolor-Erdene Ganbat and Enkhtuya Khurelbaatar – both fell in South Korea. It was only the second time each world champion has lost on the international stage.
Two-time world champion Ganbat fell to up-and-coming Turkish fighter Ali Can Ozcan in the men’s up to 61 kg K44 final. Ganbat remains the class of the division, with nearly twice the points of Turkey’s No. 2-ranked Mahmut Bozteke, while Ozcan moves up one spot to No. 7.
Khurelbaatar was stunned by Thai fighter Khwansuda Phuangkitcha in the up to 49 kg K44 final, who claimed Thailand’s first international title in the process. Unranked at the start of the year, Phuangkitcha made the quarter finals of the Asian Championships earlier this year in her premiere tournament.
Brazil’s 16-year-old Nathan Torquato showed why he is someone to keep an eye on after claiming his third international medal of 2018. He adds Kim Un Yong Cup bronze to his Pan American and US Open silvers.