Taekwondo makes its first round at the Paralympic Games


Taekwondo, the Korean martial art that features a dazzling array of spinning and cutting kicks, made its Paralympic debut in Japan. The Games ended on Sunday, with 68 athletes from 35 countries competing in taekwondo under klieg lights in a large convention hall just outside Tokyo.

In many other sports, Paralympic athletes in richer countries tend to have an advantage given how much their performance can depend on technology like custom wheelchairs or prosthetic racing blades. But like the Olympics, taekwondo has a democratizing effect because it doesn’t require expensive equipment or large training facilities. Countries like Croatia and Egypt, both of which won relatively few Games medals in total with seven apiece, have had athletes on the podium in taekwondo. The only Peruvian athlete to win a medal at the Tokyo Paralympic Games was Leonor Espinoza Carranza, who won a gold medal in the women’s under 49 kg event.

The short and explosive matches take place on an octagonal platform, with athletes wearing vests with electronic sensors capable of tracking the accuracy of kicks that score points. This innovation, said Chungwon Choue, president of World Taekwondo, makes taekwondo one of the “fairest and most transparent sports”.

“It reduces human error in judging,” said Choue, who noted that the scoring process was fair in another way: the referees are split equally between men and women.

Taekwondo drew special attention in its early days as one of the contestants, 22-year-old Zakia Khudadadi, was an Afghan athlete who escaped from Kabul to Tokyo. Khudadadi lost both of his matches.

In an effort to expand the sport, World Taekwondo has created a separate foundation to introduce martial art to refugee camps in Djibouti, Jordan, Rwanda, and Turkey. Refugee from a camp in Rwanda, Parfait Hakizimana, originally from Burundi, participated in the Tokyo Games.

As taekwondo made its Paralympic debut, it streamlined the categories in which athletes compete, consolidating different classifications of impairment. For some athletes facing rivals with lighter disabilities, the competition was particularly fierce. “Of course, it’s a bit complicated because all the classes have been combined,” said Ukrainian Viktoriia Marchuk after winning a match against Khudadadi. “But my dream has come true and I am very happy to be here.”

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