Kicking their way to the top: Philippine National Taekwondo Team gears up for World Championships

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Team Philippines at the 2016 Asian Taekwondo Championships. (Photo by Martin San Diego)

After bringing home 16 medals in the ASEAN Championships last April, the Philippine National Taekwondo team is suiting up for the season’s first major challenge: the Taekwondo World Championships to be held in South Korea this June 24 to 30.

“With one month to go before the World Championships, I can say we’re at 60 to 70 percent ready, and focused on winning this tournament,” says Coach Dindo Simpao. “Kailangan pa naming kinisin ‘yung skills nila, yung techniques, pero we’re especially focusing on strength and conditioning.”

Stronger for longer

From their usual sparring practice of three two-minute rounds, the Philippines’ top jins have stepped up to five-minute periods to improve their breathing and stamina. Starting this week, they also begin practicing thrice a day for six days a week.

The team has also brought in a nutritionist as well as the services of Jay Futalan, the strength and conditioning specialist who helped train 2016 Olympic silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz.

Elaine Alora (right) and the victory that qualified her for the 2016 Olympics. (Photo by Martin San Diego)

 

Of course, the team has an Olympian of its own in 27-year-old Elaine Alora. “Sa laban ko [noong Rio Olympics], yung opponent ko was six-footer, parang basketball player,” she shares. “My height was my disadvantage noon, kaya ang fino-focus ko ngayon is speed, stamina, at yung aggressiveness din.”

“Most likely among Asians, stamina nagkukulang compared to European countries and Americans,” observes Alora, who hails from Laguna. “Kaya ang team namin, doon nagfo-focus talaga.”

Samuel “Butch” Morrison (right) at last year’s Asian Taekwondo Qualifying Tournament for the 2016 Olympics. (Photo by Martin San Diego)

 

First step to 2020

Though the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may seem distant to the average Filipino, it certainly isn’t for our national athletes. Every win and every medal is a step closer to sending the maximum number of qualified athletes and reaching the much-anticipated podium finish.

The World Championships in Muju is an incredible platform for any jin hoping to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Gold medalists in each of the 16 weight categories win 120 ranking points, while silver winners will bring home 72 points and bronze medalists get 43.20.

The Philippine contingent celebrating Pauline Lopez’ gold medal at the 2016 Asian Taekwondo Championship. (Photo by Martin San Diego)

 

The road ahead

The contingent will then head to the Korea Open in July, followed by the SEA Games in August. There, the Philippines will compete in both the kyorugi (sparring) and poomsae (forms) events.

Though Simpao acknowledges that the World Championships are an uphill climb, he’s confident about the national team’s chances in the SEA Games. After all, not only did they win big in the preseason ASEAN Championships—they did so while keeping their aces at home.

“We didn’t send our full SEA Games lineup, but they were already beating their counterparts na sila ‘yung ipapadala sa SEA Games,” Simpao explains.

“I’m very excited,” adds Simpao. “What keeps me going, what keeps me up is our dream of making it to the Olympics, of making it to the podium, of getting that gold medal. Ayokong sabihing elusive. We’re pushing hard to get that.”

Ceej Tantengco is a reporter and writer for S+A. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

 



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