Over 100 of the world’s best Para Taekwondo athletes. 19 current or former world champions. Four reigning Paralympic champions.
When World Taekwondo launched its inaugural Para Grand Prix Series – this is what it had in mind.
The last leg of the inaugural Para Grand Prix Series will take place in Manchester, Great Britain on 20 October and will draw the most competitive field since the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Several teams and fighters are making their long-awaited returns to international competitions, including Peru’s Paralympic champion Leonor Angelica Espinoza, Nepal’s Asian Youth Para Games champion Palesha Goverdhan, and Great Britain’s 2019 world champion Matt Bush. After missing the Paris Para GP, Great Britain’s former world champion Amy Truesdale is expected to make a return, as are teams from Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Thailand.
If the first two Para GP events in Sofia, Bulgaria and Paris, France are any indication, Para Taekwondo fans are in for a treat.
Home Cooking for Host Great Britain
If history is any indicator, hosting the Para Grand Prix could be a boon to the team from Great Britain.
Several of the biggest moments in Great Britain’s Para Taekwondo history happened on home soil. Amy Truesdale won her first world championship in London in 2017, while Beth Munro and Joe Lane won their first European championships in Manchester earlier this year.
2019 world champion Matt Bush will make his return to competition for the first time since winning the European Paralympic Qualification tournament last summer. In top shape after rehabbing a serious knee injury, he won’t have to face Croatia’s Paralympic silver medalist Ivan Mikulic, who was forced to withdraw due to his own injury.
While Great Britain’s Para Taekwondo fighters have risen to the occasion at home in previous tournaments, the Para GP could be a different experience. After hosting the last Para GP, France’s former world champion Bopha Kong and Afghan refugee Paralympian Zakia Khudadadi, who lives and trains with France’s team, both cited nerves as factor in their performances at their home GP.
“My first fight on French soil put a lot of pressure on me” Khudadadi told the French Taekwondo Federation after failing to medal in Paris, “This made it a lot harder to fight in Paris than in another country”.
New Talents Emerge
Allowing up-and-coming athletes more opportunities to show their progress, the Para Grand Prix Series has put several new athletes on the radar as potential Paris 2024 medal hopefuls.
Brazil’s Ana Carolina Silva topped the reigning Paralympic, World, and European champions on the way to her first major international title at the Para GP in Paris.
Spain’s Dalia Moreno handed Uzbekistan’s in-form Guljonoy Naimova her first loss since becoming Paralympic champion to become the surprising +65 kg gold medalist in Paris.
Capping a strong 2022, Uzbekistan’s Asadbek Toshtemirov won his first Para GP title by besting Kazakhstan’s former world champion Nurlan Dombayev in the -80 kg final in Paris.
At the first Para GP in Sofia, it was France’s Djelika Diallo and Ukraine’s Vlad Nechai that won surprise medals, both at the expense of Great Britain’s current European champions. Diallo topped Paralympic silver medalist Munro for gold, while Nechai beat Paralympian Lane in the quarter-final to secure his first international medal.
Crowning Para Taekwondo’s First Undisputed Grand Prix Champions
Four fighters will be battling for a piece of Para Taekwondo history in Manchester – to become the sport’s first Undisputed Grand Prix champions.
Mexico’s Paralympic champion Juan Diego Garcia Lopez has only lost twice since winning his first world championship in early 2019. He’s the only fighter to have won every fight so far in 2022, including both Para GPs, but uncharacteristically needed a golden point to get past Azerbaijan’s Imamaddin Khalilov in Sofia.
Turkey has a pair of fighters looking to win the first-ever Para Taekwondo’s first Undisputed Para GP champions. Mahmut Bozteke has twice beaten Brazil’s Paralympic champion Nathan Torquato in the Para GP finals, including in Paris in one of the most entertaining fights of the year. Paralympic silver medalist Meryem Cavdar has yet to lose at the Para GP, beating Mexico’s Jessica Garcia in the final at both events.
The USA’s Evan Medell is also looking for his third straight Para GP title. While he won’t have to face Croatia’s Paralympic runner-up Mikulic for a third straight time due to an injury by his opponent, he may have to get past Great Britain’s 2019 world champion Bush to claim the title in what would be one of the most highly anticipated matches in Manchester.
No Easy Fights
In a sign of Para Taekwondo’s increasing talent and depth at the elite level, there are no sure-fire winners heading into the Manchester Para GP.
Every major Paris 2024 medal contender has lost at least once in 2022 except for Mexico’s Garcia Lopez, who fell in the 2021 World Championship final and needed a golden point victory to claim his first Para GP title.
Every other Paralympic champion has been beaten – Brazil’s Torquato is still in search of his first Para GP title; Denmark’s Lisa Gjessing lost at the European Championships and Paris Para GP; Uzbekistan’s Naimova was upset in the Paris Para GP final, and Peru’s Espinoza lost in her first fight since winning Tokyo 2020 gold – her first loss since 2019 – at the Pan Am Series earlier this month.
Six of the 10 Paralympic weight categories have already seen multiple Para GP champions.
With returning stars like Bush, Espinoza, and Truesdale in the mix in Manchester, it won’t be any easier for Para Taekwondo’s best to finish on top at the final Para Grand Prix event of 2022.