TAIYUAN, China (Oct. 11, 2023) - Life can change in an instant – and so can Taekwondo. Nahid Kiyanichandeh knows this all too well.
Twice, the Iranian was within a split second of clinching a gold medal victory at the Taiyuan Grand Prix. Twice, fortune shifted.
The finals of W-57kg matched pitted World Champion Kiyanichandeh against popular Canadian Skylar Park, a third-generation Taekwondoin.
Round 1 saw both athletes deploying clean, powerful, long-range technique, and both hunting the head. But the Iranian was clearly dominant and took the round.
In Round 2, Park aggressed with a body kick and a head kick going five up, but after an IVR, it was the Iranian who once again drew ahead. If she could maintain that lead, the match – and the gold – would be hers under the “best of three” system.
But Park landed a game changer in the final second, taking the game to the third.
Round 3 was fierce action - powerful kicks, falls – but the Iranian, yet again, took the lead. Park’s dad/coach requested an IVR. Granted - but the board was still 7-5 to the Iranian. Six seconds left. Park drove Kiyanichandeh off the mats. Score: 7-6 to the Iranian.
Less than one second remained. The order to fight was given and Park attacked immediately – landing to the body for a one-point win.
Kiyanichandeh dropped to her knees in dismay. Finishes don’t get more dramatic than this.
A silver at this level of competition is a fine feat, but the 25-year-old Tehran native, speaking the day after the match, admitted her inner agony.
“Since yesterday, I have seen that moment running through my mind more than 100 times,” Kiyanichandeh said. “What could I have done to change the result?”
Making things doubly dire was that Kiyanichandeh had, in the past, generated game-changing, last-second moves herself.
“Taekwondo is a sport of the moment and I have won many matches like that, I have changed the result!” she said. “In the future, I will be more careful about the last moment.”
Still, the future looks bright. Recent shifts in circumstances have lifted her fortunes in Taekwondo.
Kiyanichandeh has a long competitive background, having learned the ropes of international competition in both juniors and cadets, before graduating to the seniors.
She qualified for, and fought at both the 2019 Worlds in Manchester and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In both cases, she went home without a medal.
But things were changing.
Just prior to Tokyo, Kiyanichandeh had stepped up in weight, fighting at -57kg.
“I feel much better at this category,” she said. “After the Tokyo Olympics I felt that medal belonged to me - I had to grab it.”
Post-Tokyo, new leadership came to the national team and Kiyanichandeh got a new coach: Minoo Madah.
“She helped me mentally a lot,” Kiyanichandeh said. “She helped me to believe in myself and showed me that you can reach everything.”
The combination of ingredients proved to be the secret sauce. Suddenly, the also-ran was bringing home precious medal in elite- level competition.
Kiyanichandeh has won (deep breath): Gold at the 2022 Chuncheon Asian Championships; gold at the 2023 Baku World Championships; silver at the 2023 Roma Grand Prix; gold at the Chengdu 2021 Summber World University Games; and silver at the 2023 Taiyuan Grand Prix.
In short: She is one of the top players in the womens’ division. Kiyanichandeh’s moment is now.
She attributes her current attitude and character to the long time she spent in the medal wilderness.
“I never give up,” she said. “Sometimes I lose, but I never get tired, I come back as strong as possible.”
At her physical peak and without any injuries, she plans to compete as often as possible in the run up to Paris. There, she has two connected aims: To win gold, and to make her parents proud.
In fact, her career is due to her mother. Kiyanichandeh’s journey in the sport started when her mother bought her a Taekwondo uniform when she was eight.
Fast forward to today, and the 25-year-old has no regrets about the life choices that purchase initiated.
“Since I started to do Taekwondo, I have continued it and many things have happened and many doors have opened to me - many possibilities,” she said. “Anything can happen.”