World Championships Report
The Irish ITF Taekwon-Do Team has retained its world ranking of 9th after the recent World Championships in Wellington New Zealand. Prepared by the national team coaching panel, 16 Irish athletes and medal hopefuls travelled to New Zealand aiming to better the performance of the (somewhat larger) squad who had brought Ireland into the top 10 Taekwon-Do nations in Argentina two years earlier. Their opposition came in the form of the 41 other countries who had obtained visas to visit New Zealand, although some East European, Middle Eastern and South/Central American nations were notably absent. Argentina, Poland and New Zealand carried the favourites tag for the best overall country with large strong squads and so Ireland were aiming for individual successes.
Dylan Fitzgibbon was amongst the first to deliver, with a superb sequence of performances taking him almost effortlessly to the final of the Junior Male up to 63Kg division. He met familiar opposition in Slovenia, this time Sven Sincek not Nejc Gazvoda who Dylan lost to in the European Championship semi final. Nejc moved to the -70Kg division for this championship taking the world title. Dylan was able to anticipate and counter Sven very successfully in the first round and in the second was able to press his advantage as Sven chased. Dylan and Ireland claimed gold and Dylan, now twice world champion, could stand proudly at the top of the podium and listen to Amhrán Na bhFiann.
On the same day, Nicole Butler and Chloe Aboud progressed to the semi final of the Junior Female up to 50Kg division. Nicole did very well in the early rounds, catching her opponents with her very fast front leg shots. She struggled however, against a very rangy Anna Kucharska from Poland and never found how to work inside her range. Chloe on the other hand scored well against Justyna Szajuk (also Poland). While Justyna was strong and fast while going directly to hands Chloe was able to keep the initiative for most of the match scoring well with side and turning kicks. Unfortunately in the second round Chloe let Justyna retake the initiative and gradually conceded warnings which cumulatively cost her the match. Two bronze medals for Ireland with Gold and Silver for Poland.
On Day 2 the seniors took the floor, finishing with three outstanding silver medal performances. It was breathtakingly exciting for the Irish supporters and competitors as Hong Keat Looi and Paul King simultaneously reached finals in the Male Senior -71Kg and -63Kg divisions. Luke Woods from Ireland won the -63Kg division in Argentina and Paul as understudy was showing just how deep the talent pool in this division is in Ireland. In the semi final Paul dispatched the European Champion, Bryan Van De Westerlaken of the Netherlands. Unfortunately the final match arrived before Paul had fully recovered and the American Julio Carlos took full advantage of his extra 10 minutes rest to pile on the pressure in the opening round. Paul edged closer and closer to getting square with Julio but never quite got there. Hong had surpassed Canada, New Zealand and Sweden to reach the final with Rudolf Grega of Slovenia. The former European Champion matched Hong’s style of fighting but got the better of the first exchanges. Hong then needed to take some risks to catch up but although some looked like good scores Grega’s defence was tight and held up to the pressure test.
With two silver medals in the bag it was the turn of Stephen Ryan to deliver in the Senior Male Pattern 4-6 Dan division. This is the premier pattern division and the hot favourites were Jaroslaw Suska of Poland, Mark Trotter of New Zealand and Massimo Persia of Italy. Massimo lost out early with an uncharacteristically unimpressive performance, leaving spectators a little stunned. That was to continue as Stephen progressed from the first round to meet and beat Mark Trotter, the home favourite, in the second. Hundreds of Kiwi supporters were left speechless. Stephen wasn’t finished though and with his performances improving each round he confidently eliminated Andreas Jenstad to face Jaroslaw Suska in the final. The 4 time world champion and the challenger faced off in almost complete silence with only the faint sound of whispering spectators. The result kept people waiting too, the balance of the judges eventually falling on the side of Poland. Stephen though not too disheartened, with a fantastic set of performances behind him and his reputation massively boosted, not to mention a silver medal.
The final 2 days of competition brought all the team action. In previous years and in venues closer to Ireland there would have been junior and senior teams each in 2 or 3 of the disciplines. On this occasion with the smaller squad available the only teams were the junior and senior male sparring teams. Both delivered bronze medal performances but in completely different styles. The juniors were facing an uphill struggle from the off as their 5th man had broken his wrist fighting Jamaica and as such they had to concede his match each round. The other four had to get three match wins or at worst 2 match wins and a draw to win each round. This is exactly what they did drawing against Spain and New Zealand only for Dylan Fitzgibbon to win the deciding match on each occasion. That was enough to get them into a semi final matchup with Slovenia. Unfortunately Dylan Connolly and Sean Keogh Grincell couldn’t take a win or draw against their opponents and with Jamie’s conceded match that was game for Slovenia, who went on to take Gold.
The seniors by contrast had the full complement of 6 competitors. Their particular challenge was being smaller on average than almost all the other teams, with an average weight of only 75Kg. Finland were the first to find out just how much of an advantage mobility and speed could be as Stephen Smullen, Stephen Ryan and Hong Keat Looi win it for Ireland in three matches. Germany came next and looked very strong in their first round against Canada. Ireland however found the mismatches and used the remaining three team members to outmanoeuvre the Germans. John Moffitt, Alan McDonagh and Paul King did their jobs admirably to move Ireland into a semi final with the favourites, Poland. This match proved to be one of the most nail-bitingly close of the competition. Paul King took a draw that was so nearly a win against Tomasz Idzikowski, even with a 30Kg weight disadvantage. Next up was John Moffitt, who drew Daniel Dziala. Daniel was clinical as ever and took 2 points for Poland. Stephen Ryan went out against Lukasz Sudak and put the bigger man on the back foot from the first exchange. All went well until the final exchange where Stephen got no points after clearing Lukasz out of the ring at the final bell. To add insult to injury he was issued a warning for travelling, bringing the match level. The draw meant Ireland had to send Hong out against Piotr Wasilewski trying to be sure of a win. Hong duly delivered in comprehensive style, leaving the scores at 4 points all. It was down to Alan to upset the form books and beat three time world champion Dariusz Idzikowski for Ireland to win. The boat could only be pushed out so far however and Ireland had to settle for bronze while Poland went on to beat Slovenia for the Gold.
Ireland finished the competition with 1 Gold, 3 Silver and 4 Bronze medals translating into 9th place on the overall standings. The next target will be to break into the top 5 Nations at the European Championships in Slovakia in October.
Report by Mr. Adrian Byrne V Dan
Report by Mr. Adrian Byrne V Dan