Two more athletes from Great Britain also qualified in an event that saw records tumble
-- Lee Reaney
Vindication for Azerbaijan after World Rankings Embarrassment
Team Azerbaijan can breathe a well-earned sigh of relief.
Once dominant in Para Taekwondo – Azerbaijan dominated the medal table at the early Para Taekwondo world championship and even hosted the sport’s very first international event – the team was left reeling after failing to qualify even a single fighter to Tokyo 2020 through the world rankings.
Azerbaijan sent the maximum slate of fighters to Sofia, Bulgaria and didn’t drop a single fight along the way.
It almost didn’t happen.
Three-time world champion Aynur Mammadova barely withstood a furious late rally by Spanish opponent Dalia Santiago, which sent the women’s over 58 kg fight into a nervy Golden Point round for a Paralympic license.
After a few tense moments, Mammadova scored and then fell to her knees with relief.
“I won the license, thank God”, she said after the fight. “I thank my teachers, especially our head coach Farid Taghizadeh, Yashar Safarova, and everyone who supported me and worked hard on me.”
Azerbaijan sent its Para Taekwondo athletes to a “continuous training camp in the regions” during quarantine, and a 10-day camp alongside athletes from Kazakhstan and host Uzbekistan before the event.
The results were evident.
Teammate Royala Fataliyeva will look to add some Paralympic hardware to her two world championship bronze medals after a convincing 31-4 win in the women’s up to 49 kg final.
The men had a bit more difficult time.
Abulfaz Abuzarli held an eight-point edge for much of the fight before a furious comeback bid by Joe Lane (Great Britain) fell just short in the up to 75 kg final. Imamaddin Khalilov put down a stiff challenge Asaf Yasur (Israel) in the up to 61 kg final to complete the sweep.
Great Britain Qualifies Two of Three Fighters
Lane’s loss was the only blemish on a super showing by Team Great Britain. The team took the other two available licenses, meaning No. 1-ranked teammate Amy Truesdale will have some friendly faces alongside her in Tokyo.
Matt Bush was head and shoulders above the competition in Sofia – both literally and figuratively – winning his two fights by a combined score of 70-3 and earning the nickname ‘The Mountain’ (after a certain Game of Thrones character) from his competitors.
Watching a live feed on the World Para Taekwondo Facebook page, No. 1-ranked Evan Medell (USA) offered a quick congratulations to the reigning world champion, “Congrats bush I’ll be waiting in Tokyo”
Newcomer Beth Munro had a debut to remember, cruising through her first international fight to claim her Paralympic ticket with a 68-6 stomping in the women’s up to 58 kg final.
“The response was overwhelming!”, she told World Para Taekwondo. “The first people I contacted were my parents and they were over the moon – so very proud and happy!”
Records Fall in a Triumphant Return to Play
It was an event to remember for Para Taekwondo, coming more than a full calendar year after the last international event – and the athletes came prepared.
Three-time world champion Aythami Santana Santana (Spain) was felled by a late scoring kick by Maciej Kesicki (Poland) in a stunning start to the event.
Then Georgian newcomer Sandro Mengelishvili shattered records with a devastating 89-17 win over his Belgian opponent in the up to 61 kg quarterfinal. The 89 points is the most recorded in an international event and the 72-point margin of victory – secured with a late flurry of scoring kicks – was the biggest-ever.
“I didn’t even know I had broke the record until my friends started texting me after the fight”, he told World Para Taekwondo. “I didn’t know about the other one [most points] until the afternoon.”
When Beth Munroe put up 36 points in the first round of her title fight, he started to sweat.
“Honestly, I was probably more nervous watching her fight than the one where I set the record.”
Six more athletes have booked their tickets to Tokyo in a record-breaking – and safe – return to play for Para Taekwondo.