2018 in Review: Para taekwondo

Tokyo 2020 hosts showed plenty of fight this year

female Para taekwondo fighter Claudia Romero turns her head to the side Claudia Romero is a two-time Pan Am taekwondo champion © • Claudia Romero

With the 2018 Para taekwondo season all wrapped up, let us look back at six moments that stood out as the sport’s Paralympic debut draws even closer:

Japan make their move

Just one Japanese fighter ranked in the world’s top 10 at the start of 2018; Chikara Ito in the men’s up to 61kg K44. At the end of this year, Japan now has four in the top 11, showing their intent to impress at their home Paralympics in Tokyo.

Japan claimed medals in all four tournaments they sent fighters to, including the nation’s first international title (Mitsuya Tanaka’s Pam American gold in the men’s up to 75kg K43). The team ended the year with three gold medallists at the Kim Un Yong Cup in South Korea, including Tanaka, Kenta Awatari (men’s up to 61kg K43), and Shunsuke Kudo (men’s up to 75kg K44).

Awatari and Tanaka have emerged as the country’s newest stars and biggest Tokyo 2020 medal threats. Awatari claimed three medals in 2018 with victories over the division’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, while dropping a tight 29-22 decision to France’s No. 1-ranked Bopha Kong at the Pan American Championships. Tanaka also had a brilliant 2018, medalling at every event he participated in.

Mexico primed for Para Pan Am debut

When Para taekwondo makes its debut at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, Mexico looks poised to be the star of the show.

They showcased talented young team in Spokane, USA, where three Mexican fighters claimed Pan American titles. The team was led by 18-year-old star Claudia Romero (women’s up to 49kg K44), already a World Championship silver medallist. The world No. 3 added a European Open silver to her second Pan Am title in 2018.

Her 23-year-old compatriot Jessica Garcia Quijano (women’s up to 58kg K44) also had a memorable year. The former World s bronze medallist added a second Pan Am title, a US Open title, and a European Open silver to end the year ranked No. 6.

Mexico’s third Pan Am champion was 16-year-old Juan Diego Garcia Lopez (men’s up to 75kg K44), who also claimed the US Open title.

Turkey on target for 2020

Turkey claimed at least four medals in Paralympic divisions in every continental tournament they competed this year. They started 2018 right by claiming five medals, including two golds, at the African Open Championships and followed it up with another four medals at the Asian Open Championships.

The team then dominated the European Open, where there was a Turkish medallist in 15 of 19 divisions. The highlight was 42-year-old Bayram Kayram claiming silver in the men’s over 75 K44 event. One of the sport’s pioneers, Kayram claimed the division’s first world title in 2009.

Africa arrive to world stage

In a sport traditionally dominated by Asian and European countries, African nations used the third African Championships as their coming out party.

Three new African nations competing internationally for the first time (Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Tunisia). Host Morocco led the way with seven medals, including two golds. None was more exciting than when their own world No. 2 Rajae Akermach (women’s over 58kg K44) upended Great Britain’s reigning world champion and world No. 1 Amy Truesdale.

But the biggest surprise…

Perhaps the most impressive surprise of 2018 was Niger’s Ismael Oumarou Gouzae (men’s up to 75kg K44). Ranked No. 28 going into the African Championships, he bested the world’s No. 2, 4, and 11-ranked fighters to claim silver.

Men’s over 75kg K44 a tight race

Six different fighters managed to qualify for the finals at the four continental championships in 2018, with a different winner at each tournament.

Croatia’s Ivan Mikulic and the USA’s Evan Medell continue to lead the way, each having captured a single championship in 2018 – and defeating each other along the way.

Medell bested Mikulic at the African Open, while Mikulic reciprocated by beating Medell at home in the Pan American final.

Both fighters were also upset in first-round losses this year. Medell was ousted early in the Asian Open, which saw Iran’s surprising Hamed Haghshenas top his world No. 3 compatriot Asghar Aziziaghdam for the title. With just a year left to gain ranking points to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games, this division is sure to be 2019’s most entertaining.