From its introduction into the prestigious Grand Prix Series, to its first fully integrated event, to Para Taekwondo stars winning able-bodied awards, Para Taekwondo took major steps towards parity in 2022.
1. Para Taekwondo Hits Prime Time at Para Grand Prix Series
Bright lights, ring walks, big-time fights – Para Taekwondo stars hit the limelight in style in 2022 as the sport’s biggest stars staked their claims to being the biggest Paris 2024 medal threats in the sport.
Para Taekwondo made its debut at Taekwondo’s biggest event series and made stars out of some athletes while cementing rivalries as Para Taekwondo barrels toward its second Paralympic Games.
Paralympic stars showed that they are still in top form, with six Tokyo 2020 medalists winning three of four Para Grand Prix Series gold medals.
Paralympic champions Juan Diego Garcia Lopez (MEX) and Guljonoy Naimova (UZB) continued their dominance from 2021 by each winning three events, while Tokyo 2020 medalists Silvana Cardoso (BRA), Evan Medell (USA), Mahmut Bozteke (TUR), and Meryem Cavdar (TUR) each cemented their statuses as Paris 2024 medal favourites by winning three of four Para Grand Prix gold medals each.
Bozteke and Cavdar were recognised for their Para GP success by winning Male and Female Athletes of the Year at the year-end Awards Gala – the first time Para Taekwondo was included in the ceremony.
“We achieved many things in 2022. The Para GP Series was a great success. It was a great feeling to see Para athletes have the same opportunities and compete at the same level as able-bodied athletes”. WT Para Taekwondo Chair Chakir Chelbat told World Taekwondo.
New athletes also showed they belong at the top of their respective weight categories. Asad Toshtemirov (UZB), Alireza Bakht (IRI), and Ana Carolina Silva de Moura (BRA) each won two Para Grand Prix tournaments, while Djelika Diallo (FRA) and Shrijana Ghising (NEP) each won their first international gold medals at the Para Grand Prix in memorable fashion.
Other Para Taekwondo winners at the WT Awards Gala included Bobur Koziyev (UZB) for Coach of the Year, Brazil for MNA of the Year, and Ukraine for Fighting Spirit.
For more, please check out the Para Grand Prix Finals review at http://www.worldtaekwondo.org/competition/view.html?nid=139730&mcd=D28&sc=ne
2. Integrated Events Mark Wave of the Future
Para Taekwondo flexed its innovative muscles by becoming the first Para sport to hold concurrent competition with its able-bodied counterparts.
The European Championships in Manchester had Para Taekwondo finals featured in prime time on Great Britain’s national broadcaster BBC alongside Taekwondo’s biggest Olympic stars, offering Para fighters unprecedented access to eyeballs – both in the stadium and on TV.
“Spectators kept asking about the difference in rules (between able-bodied and Para Taekwondo)”, said WT Para Taekwondo Committee Vice-Chair Usman Dildar. “They noted that able-bodied was more touching (with precision) while Para was more powerful and passionate. They preferred Para”.
Of course, it wasn’t just the Para community that was delighted by the development. Bradley Sinden, Great Britain’s world champion and Olympic silver medalist, shared his sentiments with local media.
“It’s one hall and it’s not just Olympic athletes. We also have Para athletes competing as well – the first time it’s been fully integrated”, he told the Yorkshire Post. “So, fans will get to cheer on the whole team. We train together, so it’s about time we compete together”.
The extraordinary opportunity proved a boon to the hometown Great Britain team, who crowned two new European champions on the way to three total Para medals. Beth Munro finally bested Paralympic nemesis Lisa Gjessing (DEN) while Joe Lane topped talented young gun Asad Toshtemirov (UZB), as both won their first international tournaments.
“The cohesiveness and team energy (were amazing). It was electrifying with the crowd”, Munro told World Para Taekwondo about the experience. “It was also amazing to see the equality we Para athletes deserve – long may it last”.
Continuing its parity path, the Pan American Taekwondo Union (PATU) selected Garcia Lopez as its 2022 Athlete of the Year – ahead of able-bodied athletes competing in the same category.
“It is important for federations to recognise Para athletes to make us feel like part of an inclusive family”, Garcia Lopez told the IPC after receiving the prestigious award. “That motivates us to continue seeking to be the best”.
For more on Garcia Lopez’s award, please visit - https://www.paralympic.org/feature/garcia-lopez-s-award-caps-remarkable-path-parity-para-taekwondo
Para Taekwondo looks to have set off a trend in Para sport, with Oceania Athletics hosting an integrated Athletics Championships later in the year.
For more on Para Taekwondo’s parity push, please check out this article by the IPC - https://www.paralympic.org/para-sport/news/para-taekwondo-makes-step-towards-equity-european-championships-manchester
3. Participation Support Works
When Nepal’s Shrijana Ghising kicked her way into sporting history by winning Nepal’s first-ever gold medal at the Para Grand Prix Finals in December it showed more than just how athletes from small, less-funded national programmes could compete and excel with better-funded competition.
“Nepal’s success is a testament to the support of World Taekwondo”, said WT Para Taekwondo Director Olof Hansson. “It shows what can happen when athletes get the opportunity to show their skill against the world’s best when they might otherwise not have that chance”.
It reflected a culmination in World Taekwondo’s commitment to supporting athletes from underrepresented groups to compete at sport’s highest levels.
It also marked a capping achievement in a banner year for athletes receiving participation support from World Taekwondo.
When Ukraine’s team was forced to flee war at home near the beginning of the year and traditionally strong government support was diverted from Para sport to more pressing needs in Ukraine, World Taekwondo and other partners stepped in to make sure the team could still compete.
Denmark housed the team and provided training, while World Taekwondo’s participation support ensured its top athletes could still compete.
Five different Ukrainian athletes stepped on the medal podium at various events in 2022, led by six-time world champion Vika Marchuk’s European Championship silver and pair of Para Grand Prix bronze medals.
Ukraine’s National Paralympic Committee released a statement thanking WT. For more, please read http://www.worldtaekwondo.org/wtnews/view.html?nid=139704&mcd=C07
World Taekwondo participation support helped Ghana send three athletes to the 2022 African Championships. The team responded well, with all three winning medals and Patricia Kyeremaa and Emmanuel Kofi Turkson winning their first African championships in the +65 kg and -70 kg categories, respectively.
Three athletes from Central African Republic also received support to attend the African Championships, with Louissette Kimoto and Chick-Norris Kongo picking up a pair of silvers – the first for CAF – in the +65 kg and -70 kg categories.
Previous programmes that received participation support from World Taekwondo showcased how the support build strong and sustainable Para Taekwondo programmes in member states.
Uzbekistan won 14 medals at the Para Grand Prix events this year, including 5 gold medals between Guljonoy Naimova and Asad Toshtemirov. Coach Bobur Koziyev was named Para Coach of the Year for the efforts.
Azerbaijan won 9 medals, including season-ending golds at the Para Grand Prix Finals for Sabir Zeynalov andImamaddin Khalilov.
Both programmes were previous recipients of World Taekwondo participation support.
World Taekwondo has set aside $50,000 for 2023 to continue its support of underrepresented groups.
Female athletes, athletes from developing member nations, and athletes from Africa, South America, and Asia, are encouraged to contact World Para Taekwondo for more information at email@example.com.
4. ‘Undisputed’ is a Disputed Label
World Para Taekwondo’s introduction of the ‘undisputed’ label for fighters that had won each of the first three Para Grand Prix Series events caused a stir in the Para Taekwondo community, with international media jumping on the term, while athletes and coaches debated exactly who should earn the title.
“I think you need to win the Para Grand Prix Finals too, to really be an ‘undisputed’ Para Grand Prix champion”, said Great Britain coach Andrew Deer after four athletes won gold at each of the Sofia, Paris, and Manchester Para GPs.
Juan Diego Garcia Lopez (MEX), Evan Medell (USA), Mahmut Bozteke (TUR), and Meryem Cavdar (TUR) had been earned the title before the Para Grand Prix Finals had been confirmed.
He might have been right, too. Not one of them won gold at the Para Grand Prix Finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
While Garcia Lopez and Medell took the event off after undefeated 2022 seasons, Bozteke and Cavdar both fell in the year’s final Grand Prix event – meaning no Para Taekwondo athlete won all four 2022 Para Grand Prix events.
There remain six ‘undisputed’ Paralympic fighters; that is, fighters who have never been beaten at the Paralympic Games. Of those six, only Uzbekistan’s Guljonoy Naimova managed to win a Para Grand Prix event – winning gold at three of four Para Grands Prix, while picking up a silver in the other event.
Of course, perhaps the greatest claim to the ‘undisputed’ moniker is for Mongolia’s Bolor-Erdene Ganbat, who has put together an incredible 20-0 record at the World Championships on his way to five straight world titles.
Ganbat also failed to win a single Para Grand Prix event, claiming bronze in Sofia and Manchester.
Perhaps the biggest claim to the contentious characterisation is for Naimova who, along with Garcia Lopez, are the only fighters to win gold at each of the Paralympics, World Championships, continental championships, and Para Grand Prix.
Naimova is the only Para Taekwondo fighter to hold all four titles concurrently.
Besides the hardware, ranking points, cash prizes, and legacy every athlete competes for each year, there is now one more additional prize to be won – the title of ‘undisputed’ Para Taekwondo champion.
For more, please check out this article - http://www.worldtaekwondo.org/wtnews/view.html?nid=139486&mcd=C07
5. No Clear-Cut Favourites for Paris 2024
While several fighters made moves to become medal favourites at Paris 2024, even the top fighters in Para Taekwondo showed how much of a struggle it is to stay at the top.
Paralympic champions Nathan Torquato (BRA) and Lisa Gjessing (DEN) excelled at the Para Grand Prix series, winning a combined total of 7 medals – but neither managed to win gold.
Superstars Guljonoy Naimova (UZB) and Juan Diego Garcia Lopez (MEX), who have won nearly every title in Para Taekwondo in the last two years while rarely being tested, both faced serious competition in 2022.
Diego Lopez was pushed to golden point by Azerbaijan’s Imamaddin Khalilov at the European Championships in May before coming out on top, while Naimova dropped a tight Para Grand Prix final in Paris to Spain’s Dalia Santiago, showing the sport’s best can still be beaten.
Even 2022’s top fighters showed the difficulty of going an entire calendar year undefeated. Turkiye’s Mahmut Bozteke and Meryem Cavdar took their perfect Para Grand Prix Series records – and three gold medals each – into the year-end Para Grand Prix Finals before running into trouble.
Cavdar was surprised by Shrijana Ghising (NEP) in the -52 kg final, while Bozteke left without a medal after falling to champion Saeid Sadeghianpour (IRI) and bronze medalist Antonino Bossolo (ITA) in -63 kg.
The pair didn’t go home emptyhanded after winning World Taekwondo’s inaugural Female and Male Para Athlete of the Year awards.
The emergence of new fighters, like Asad Toshtemirov (UZB), Ana Carolina Silva de Moura (BRA), and Alireza Bakht (IRI) – who won two Para Grand Prix events each – further shows just how competitive the top of field had become.
With the busiest Para Taekwondo calendar in history on hand for 2023, the days of prohibitive favourites at the top of weight categories looks to be a thing of the past.