For being selected to be part of Team Nigeria to this month’s World Taekwondo Federation Youth Olympics qualifiers as well as the world junior championships in Chinese Taipei, the athletes are all in high spirits in readiness for the global tournaments.
With the nine invited all gold medallists at the maiden National Youth Games, the contingent are in Abuja tuning up for the championships scheduled for March 20 to 27.
The captain of the team, Shola Olowookere of Lagos State said: “I feel great to be representing Nigeria for the very first time. It has not been difficult to combine my school with participating in sports. The camp has been interactive, and we have learnt so much from each other.”
Also, Mohammed Bashir of Yobe said: “Training in camp has been educative, and I have learnt a lot. Speed techniques and movement are some of those key areas I have learnt some things. I hope I can win a medal in Taiwan insha Allah.
“It exposes the youth to international competition, and makes us to feel the Olympics is not only for the adults but for us again. It feels great to be one of the people to participate in this upcoming championships representing Nigeria. By the special grace of God, we will make Nigeria proud,” said Abdullah Adegoke of Osun State.
Also, Adegoke’s sibling, Luqman said: “I feel ready, but I know we need to train harder to become even better. The camp was very short, but with the little time, we are ready. At the Junior Olympics, I expect to see young people like us. The camp has been very lively, and I have enjoyed it.”
Cengiz Yağız, former chairman of the Turkish Taekwondo Federation (TTF), has called for a detailed investigation into incidents surrounding the death of Seyithan Akbalık during a match at the Luxor Open Taekwondo Tournament in Egypt on Feb. 16.
Akbalık died on Feb. 16 after going into cardiac arrest on the mat. Earlier this week, Yağız said that the incident might even be considered murder due to gross negligence on part of the authorities.
The former TTF head says he is filing a criminal complaint in regard to the case, which he did not immediately file out of respect for the family's loss. “As far as I can see, this case is trying to be closed. It's being made to sound as if the family is at fault, as if they closed their eyes to their boy in order to get a medal,” he said.
“Everyone is passing the blame; the federation, the athlete's club, the General Directorate of Sports, the Surgeon General's Office and the trainer of the national team are all saying, ‘If we had known we would not have given him permission [to compete]',” he said, adding, “They are obligated to know [the health status of their athletes].”
The fact that Akbalık had acted under the supervision of the family doctor is not a valid excuse for not ensuring that taekwondo practitioners are fit for competition. A more specialized doctor is required in such instances.
According to Yağız, the role of the General Directorate of Sports -- and specifically, its health committee -- is clearly laid out. The role includes ensuring that athletes undergo periodic and systematic health checks. “Did this health committee perform its duties?” the former TTF chairman asked, adding, “If it had done its job, then it would have known that our athlete had a health problem.”
Death of an athlete
Akbalık was in the third round of preliminaries in the 63-kilogram weight category at the Luxor Open when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest. He was treated immediately and rushed to the hospital. According to his coach, Akbalık had last competed in May. The athlete had to take time off due to a heart rhythm disorder and palpitations.
The family doctor said it was not an obstacle to taekwondo and eventually gave him permission to compete. He was prescribed medicine for his condition, but his family has reported that he frequently forgot to take it. They also noted that they do not know if he took it on the day of the match.
Akbalık and his family were concerned about the medication falling into the category of banned substances, which is perhaps one reason for his reluctance to take it regularly. However, they should have had the support of the federation when dealing in such matters.
The 21-year-old was buried the day after his death in his hometown of İzmir in Turkey and remembered by taekwondo athletes around the world.
The first ever Luxor Open took place on Feb. 15-17. Athletes, including 13 Turkish representatives, were competing for points toward attending the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The 21-year-old athlete started out in the sport in his hometown of İzmir and it quickly became a passion for him. He was a European youth champion in 2009 and a member of Ulaştırma Spor Kulübü. His younger brother Eyüp also practices taekwondo.
The athlete's father stated that as a boy, Seyithan had always expressed his desire to become a “martyr,” which is what the Turkish authorities use to designate someone who dies while in service to the country, usually during military service. He is being hailed as a “martyr” because he was representing Turkey in international competition when he passed. This is a nice sentiment for the family, but if negligence was involved in Akbalık's death, then this alone will not provide justice.
“We hear that health checks are being done. We hear that athletes are being screened in [training] camp. We want follow up on whether past athletes such as Seyithan have been checked,” Yağız insisted, calling on the Ministry of Sports to take ownership of the situation.
Indeed, steps should be taken to insure such an unfortunate incident does not happen in the future. Health checks should be more thorough for any athletes competing on a professional or international level. Turkey's authorities must take the issue into their own hands, rather than trying to pass the blame off on the family and its doctor.
“This is murder. It is negligence,” Yağız stated, adding, “The federation failed to do their job and perform their duties according to the regulations."
Seyithan Akbalik, 21, had collapsed earlier Sunday during a match against a Slovenian player in the men's 63-kilogram category of the International Taekwondo Tournament in Luxor.
The Vice President of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) asserted on Sunday that Turkish taekwondo player Seyithan Akbalik had died of natural causes.
"The prosecution has concluded, based on the postmortem report, that the player had died of circulatory collapse," Ahmed Fouly told a press conference.
Akbalik, 21, had collapsed earlier Sunday during a match against a Slovenian player in the men's 63-kilogram category of the International Taekwondo Tournament in Luxor.
Fouly, who is also the head of the Egyptian Taekwondo Federation, said the Turkish medical team along with doctors from Egypt and the UK had tried to rescue the player, but to no avail.
He noted that the player was taken to Luxor International Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The WTF official went on to say that the Turkish government has decided to send a special plane to carry the body of the player who would be accompanied by Taekwondo Federation of Turkey president Metin Sahin.
Meanwhile, the tournament director Farag al-Omari told Anadolu Agency that today's medal ceremony was cancelled to mourn the Turkish player.
He added that all players will, from Monday, observe a moment of silence before every match to mourn the Turkish player.
The International Taekwondo Tournament in Luxor opened Saturday with the participation of over 300 players from 37 countries.
Before they’ve even graduated from high school, two Chantilly brothers — Sohwon, 17, and Siwon Kim, 15, have each won national taekwondo titles.
Their father Master Han Kim has been running the U.S. Taekwondo College in Sully Plaza off Route 50 in Chantilly for 21 years. Sohwon started taking lessons from his dad at the age of 5 and started competing at age 7. And he hasn’t stopped since.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without him,” he said of his dad. “It’s a blessing; there’s always emotions involved.”
Sohwon won the gold medal in the 2012 U.S. National Championship in the Junior Featherweight Division for ages 14-17. He was a member of the U.S. Junior National Team. He also won the 2013 U.S. Senior National Championship in Chicago for the 18-32 age group. And he’s the youngest male athlete ever to win gold at senior championships.
“He’s a very talented kid, but he’s too nice,” said his father. “He’s a tremendous athlete, but he doesn’t have that killer instinct.” He said with more time and age that, “I hope he’ll get it soon.”
To maintain his 127-pound weight, he runs about three to five miles a day, does sprints and weight training at Gold’s Gym. He eats a strict diet of proteins and mostly vegetables with no sugars or carbs.
Sohwon transferred from Chantilly High to Mountain View in his senior year. He hopes to graduate in February or early March so that he can devote more time to taekwondo.
Because his dad Han was a former professional boxer, they incorporate boxing strategies into both of his sons’ taekwondo training.
“We would treat our taekwondo matches like it was boxing,” Sohwon said. “I use my footwork and throw one shot at a time — just to get my opponents out of balance.”
If his opponents make mistakes, Sohwon says he tries to take advantage of them. “My fights are very entertaining and dramatic … Me and my brother always have a big fan base.”
Sohwon describes himself as a “technical fighter,” using clean techniques when he kicks and punches. He’s best known for his 540-degree kicks spinning in the air. But he prefers to stick to the basics. “Everyone knows about my left-front leg kick, but they always have trouble containing it,” he added.
His next step is to compete in the Canadian Open in Montreal next month where he hopes to receive ranking points. The top 35 athletes in the world are ranked and thus qualify for the World Grand Prix. And the top six athletes automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“That is a dream of mine,” he said. “But my dream cannot be obtained unless I go to international competitions.”
SIWON KIM, 15, started taekwondo when he was 3 years old. In March he will be competing in the Junior World Championships in Taipei, China, in the lightweight taekwondo division (130 pounds).
In 2012, he won the national championships in Dallas in fin weight (under 99 pounds) in the 14-17 age division against 32 people from around the nation. In 2013, he won the national championship in Chicago in the flyweight (under 105 pounds) in the 14-17 age division against 20 people from around the nation.
He went to the Pan Am Championship in Mexico in 2013 as a national team member and competed against eight people and took home the bronze. He also made the U.S. National Team in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
“I just love physical contact,” said Siwon, a sophomore who is home-schooled. “I’m very aggressive; I just go forward with a lot of attacking.”
For his workout regimen, he runs about five miles a day and trains in taekwondo for about three hours. He says he stops going on Facebook and Twitter, eats lots of protein and drinks lots of water.
“He has the killer instinct,” said his father of Siwon. “He always finds his way to win,” He added that Siwon is the youngest junior national team winner at 14, repeated it at 15, and made it again at 16.
His dad says he’s got a small chance of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics. In April, he will be 16 and have to compete against grown men. “But I believe he can do it through hard work,” added Han Kim.
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been presented with a 9th dan black belt by World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) head Chungwon Choue as recognition of his contribution to the development of the sport in his country.
Nazarbayev is the latest international leader to be presented with a black belt following the likes of United States President Barack Obama, South Korean leader Lee Myung-bak, and United Nations secretary general Ban-Ki Moon.
In a a 35-minute ceremony at the Ak Orda Presidential Palace in Astana, the President received the award before pledging to continue to promote the sport and increase participation levels.
A WTF-designated Regional Training Centre, which will standardise and improve the training of taekwondo coaches in the region, is among the projects being considered.
Following the success of the inaugural 2013 version in Manchester, Kazakhstan is also bidding to host the first tournament of the 2014 WTF Grand Prix Series - where they will face competition from China, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, and Great Britain.
The Central Asian nation is also flexing its bidding muscles in a more general sense by bidding for other events, including the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
When speaking after the belt was presented, President Choue was quick to recognise the achievements of President Nazarbayev in raising the profile of the sport.
"We are delighted to be here in the beautiful city of Astana and to have the opportunity to officially thank and reward President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the work he has done in supporting and promoting taekwondo in this country," he said.
"It is imperative that we work with each of our 205 Member National Associations to guarantee that we fulfill the potential of our global sport.
"The people we have met so far in Kazakhstan have shown us the passion for taekwondo that exists here and the establishment of a Regional Training Centre would help ensure that the sport's popularity grows even further - not just in this country but throughout the region.
"Travelling around the world always reinforces just how popular taekwondo is globally.
"Taekwondo is a sport for all nationalities which offers universal opportunities, regardless of race, gender or faith.
"Bringing the World Taekwondo GP to countries around the world will motivate and inspire the next generation of athletes and ensure that the Olympic values continue to be spread worldwide."
World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) President Choue Chung-won often says that for taekwondo to improve its appeal to a global audience, it should consider beach volleyball as a model. His candid point is that the allure of beach volleyball is much more than slapping balls from one direction to another.
His version of taekwondo is something between a traditional martial art and a showy musical performance, a sport that provides theatrics fit for the 21st century audience.
Calbe Shin, CEO of media company Mantra World TV and also a choreographer of WTF’s demonstration team, which is devoted to ceremonial performances, agrees with the need to change taekwondo’s overall image.
"I think we already have marketable stars,’’ Shin said.
"Now, we need a more marketable sport.’’
Some of Shin’s ideas would leave purists cringing. He is considering putting makeup, including eyeliner, on the athletes for the special performance here on Wednesday night to make them look ''cooler.’’ He also doesn’t believe that taekwondo demonstrations should be performed only by those trained as athletes.
“Perhaps it is faster to teach jazz artists taekwondo than teach athletes jazz,” Shin said. “My role is to make them popular which will naturally lead to an enlargement of the fan base. I don’t think we should just stick to athletes.”
The WTF Demonstration Team General Director Na Il-han agreed that appearance has become an important factor in judging process along with athleticism and practice form, "poomse.’’
“I believe taekwondo is a sport that has the most spectacular stage demonstration, which has plenty of potential for becoming even more popular to over 100 million people worldwide and beyond,’’ Na said.
Fans may see the demonstration team of only women or of some non-Koreans being part for a broader appeal.
“Many ideas are on the table. You might see such teams soon,” Na said.
Hiring non-Koreans in Korea has been difficult because athletes have to spend so much time together for practice, although the WTF has collaborated with local athletes for its shows abroad. However, a lack of time for practice makes it difficult for the team to perform high-level techniques.
“But the door is always open,” Na said. “We are trying to come up with programs where anyone can participate in the team.”
The WTF Demonstration Team recruits performers every year through tests where some remain in the team, while others are replaced with new ones. The next test is expected to take place in December.
As the New Year kicked off just a few days ago, the Taekwondo community has been shaken by surprising news from Kukkiwon: Kukkiwon President Kyu-Hyung Lee resigned on December 31st 2013.
Instead of opening a press conference, Lee has sent an official letter to all Taekwondo journalists in Korea on January 4th 2014.
The continuous clashes within Kukkiwon are his main reason for resignation: the board of directors has been recently divided in two large groups: politicians vs. Taekwondo people. The direction that each group wants to undertake and the interests of several Taekwondo political groups are so contrary to each other that it seems to be virtually impossible to take any step forward.
Lee’s proposals for vice-president and other important positions have been cut off by the chairman of the board of directors, making it very hard for Lee to create a working team that could bring about positive changes in Kukkiwon and Taekwondo that he had in mind.
He felt that his hopes for normalizing the organization and restoring Kukkiwon’s prestige were totally devastated and realized that it was going to be very difficult for him to do any good for Taekwondo despite his position.
In his official letter sent to the Taekwondo community in Korea, Lee also apologizes for not being able to carry out his job until the end, but he has decided to give up such an honorable position because his conscience and pride as a Taekwondo man could not accept what was happening.
Now that the Kukkiwon has been left without its leader, the Taekwondo community is afraid that the World Taekwondo Headquarters will not normalize any time soon.
AARON Cook has reclaimed his world number one status but will not be returning to the GB Taekwondo programme.
The Dorchester-born fighter quit the Great Britain set up in 2011 and was later overlooked for London 2012, with eventual bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad being handed the spot instead.
Cook has since started to represent the Isle of Man instead and has always vowed not to return to the British system while those responsible for his Olympic snub remain part of the programme.
The 22-year-old finished third to Muhammad at the Manchester Grand Prix last month but he remains the reigning European champion and is determined to make it to Rio in 2016 through his own means.
Cook is now funded almost entirely by his parents after his UK Sport athlete funding was withdrawn following his decision to quit the GB academy.
GB Taekwondo has always left the door open for Cook to return to the set-up but have insisted that compromises would have to be made in order for that to happen.
The top-six ranked fighters come the final Grand Prix event in 2015 will automatically qualify for the Rio Olympics but it is still not known what would happen if two of those came from the same country.
Since the sport was officially included in the Olympics in 2000, only one athlete from each nation has been permitted per weight division.
With Muhammad currently lying fifth in the -80kg global standings, the GB selectors could well face the difficult decision of choosing between the pair once again.
Former kick-boxing world champion Damon Sansum beat Aaron Cook in the -80kg French Open final on Sunday.
Sansum, 26, had been out of action since competing at the Mexico World Championships in July following shoulder surgery.
He beat Manchester Grand Prix bronze medallist Cook 22-14 in Paris.
Heavyweight Grand Prix champion Mahama Cho secured silver and Charlie Maddock won -57kg bronze, whilst Bianca Walkden claimed the +67kg title on Saturday.
Sansum switched from kick-boxing in 2010 as part of the UK Sport and English Institute of Sport backed 'Fighting Chance' initiative.
He had previously won titles in Germany and Sweden and declared earlier this year that he was now ready to regularly challenge the world's elite after fully adapting to his new sport.
Although Rio 2016 Olympic qualification regulations have yet to be finalised by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), it is expected only one fighter from each nation will be permitted in a weight division.
The decision to award Andrew Deer - rather than Sansum - a wildcard place at the inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester saw him lose ground on Olympic bronze medallist Lutalo Muhammad - who won the division - and Cook.
"I'm really happy with the gold medal. It's a great way to finish off the year," Sansum told BBC Sport.
"I feel that I have more to come in terms of performance, but watch this space for 2014."
Reflecting on his defeat, Isle of Man fighter Cook, 22, admitted fatigue had an impact.
"Had nothing left to give after an exhausting 2013. Will now recharge to start next year [on] the road to Rio," he said on his Facebook page.
Cho, 24, who was born in the Ivory Coast and only recently returned to the British set-up after 12 months competing for France, lost to former team-mate M'Bar N'Diaye 10-9.
Damon Sansum exits World Taekwondo Championships in final 16
Maddock, 18, impressively defeated Olympic taekwondo competitor Bat-El Gatterer of Israel in her opening fight, before victories over Raheleh Asemani of Belarus and Dutch fighter Bodine Schoenmakers.
She lost her semi-final to Jennifer Agren of Sweden 9-5.
Walkden, 22, who suffered a second round elimination at the Manchester Grand Prix, shrugged off that disappointment by beating home-favourite and Olympic silver medallist Anne Caroline Graffe 9-1 in the final.
"I fought really well, I just wish it was at the Grand Prix last week," Walkden told BBC Sport.
"I'm happy I won, it was a great way to end the year and hopefully I can do much more in 2014."
Grand Prix medal winners Muhammad and Jade Jones were allowed to skip the event following their exertions in Manchester last weekend.