Para taekwondo fighters put on dazzling displays of speed, strategy and skill on the sport's Paralympic debut16 Oct 2021
Denmark's Lisa Gjessing added Paralympic gold to her long list of accolades
By Lee Reaney | For the IPC
Stunning display of strategy and skill, inspiring examples of power and grit, last-second comebacks and legendary performances; the world was wowed by Para taekwondo’s dizzying spin kicks and nail-biting finishes at Tokyo 2020.
Here is what we learned from the sport’s Paralympic debut.
ANYONE CAN WIN
A quick look at the Paralympic medal table shows just how global Para taekwondo has become.
With 24 medals on offer, athletes from 17 nations won one – every continent saw at least one athlete standing on the Tokyo 2020 podium.
Peru’s Parapan American champion Angelica Espinoza won her country’s first medal since Athens 2004 and first gold medal since Sydney 2000.
Croatia’s 2017 World Champion Ivan Mikulic nearly claimed his country’s sole title at Tokyo 2020. A late scoring kick by Iran’s two-time World Champion Asghar Azizi Aqdam denied him +75 kg gold, but this still was Croatia’s best result and he carried the country’s flag into the Closing Ceremony.
Brazil, Denmark, Mexico and Uzbekistan also topped the podium in Tokyo.
EVEN THE BEST CAN LOSE
In a surprise to many, just one 2019 World Champion was able to replicate the success at Tokyo 2020.
Mexico’s teenage superstar Diego Garcia Lopez became Para taekwondo’s only reigning World and Paralympic Champion by beating Iran’s four-time legend Mehdi Pourrahnama 26-20 in an entertaining men's -75 kg final.
And even he looked vulnerable in Tokyo!
Were it not for a champion-defining last second strike against RPC’s 2013 World Champion Magomedzagir Isaldibirov in the semi-final, Para taekwondo wouldn’t have had its first dual champion.
The results of several star athletes stand as a testament to the quality on display at Tokyo 2020.
Mongolia’s four-time World Champion Bolor-Erdene Ganbat – who has never lost a fight at the Worlds – failed to secure a medal at his first Paralympic Games after being stunned by a late strike from Turkey’s Mahmut Bozteke in the men's -61 kg bronze semi-final.
Ganbat’s 2017 World Champion teammate, women's -49kg No. 1-ranked Enkhtuya Khurelbaatar, also failed to medal after falling to Thailand’s reigning World Champion Khwansuda Phuangkitcha.
Great Britain’s No. 1-ranked and 2017 World Champion Amy Truesdale fell to Uzbekistan’s Guljonoy Naimova 60-14 in a startling women's +58 kg semi-final result.
It was no easier for China’s Yujie Li. The reigning World Champion was stunned in the -58 kg semi-final by British newcomer Munro and needed a late score against Nepal’s No. 28-ranked Goverdhan to secure a bronze medal.
There is simply so little room between the sport’s top fighters that on any given day – anyone can lose!
PARA TAEKWONDO MAKES INSTANT IMPACT
Some of the finest fights the sport has ever seen took place at Tokyo’s Makuhari Messe.
From strategic chess matches, to dizzying displays of athleticism, to dramatic last-second wins – the sport delivered some of the 2020 Paralympic Games’ most exciting moments.
Teams will be pouring through the tapes of the Garcia Lopez-Pourrahnama -75 kg final, the Mikulic-Azizi Aqdam +75 kg final, and the -58 kg semi-final between Denmark’s Paralympic champion Lisa Gjessing and Brazil’s rising star Silvana Cardoso as wonderful displays of the strategy involved in the sport.
It would not be Para taekwondo if there were not heart-in-your-throat, nail-biting finishes – and Tokyo 2020 had more than its fair share.
Among the most memorable were Garcia Lopez booking his ticket to the -75 kg final with a late strike on Isaldibirov, Argentina's Juan Samorano’s medal-winning kick in the men's -75 kg bronze medal match, and Bozteke’s last-second strike to stop Ganbat from fighting for bronze.
History was made at Tokyo 2020 as Para taekwondo crowned its first six Paralympic champions. But just as quickly as questions were answered at Tokyo 2020, many more were raised.
Was the -75 kg final between Garcia Lopez and Pourrahnama the beginning of what could become the sport’s most competitive and compelling rivalry?
Will Gjessing stick around to try to defend her Paralympic title at Paris 2024? If she does, will she be able to stay ahead of talented young challengers like Cardoso and Munro?
Who will emerge as the cream of the +58 kg category – Paralympic Champion Naimova, World Champion Menezes, or No. 1-ranked Truesdale – or will someone else join that elite group?
What will happen when Great Britain’s reigning World Champion Matt Bush returns to the topsy-turvy +75 kg category that just crowned Azizi Aqdam its first Paralympic Champion?
Can Ganbat reclaim his spot at the top of the -61 kg category? Or will Torquato hold him and his other challengers at bay at the top of the sport’s most competitive division?
Can anyone catch Peru’s Paralympic and Parapan Am champ Espinoza, who has owned the -49 kg category for the last two years?
How many athletes around the world have been inspired by the fantastic performances of our Paralympians this summer and might follow that same, life-changing journey?