Sofia Gears up for ‘Best of the Beasts’ Grand Prix

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WT President Reveals Upcoming Innovations ahead of Tokyo 2020

SOFIA, Bulgaria (17 October 2019) – The president of the Bulgarian Taekwondo Federation stated that his country’s significant investments in the sport are a gift to the youth of his country, while the president of World Taekwondo revealed upcoming innovations ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The two were speaking, together with some of the world’s top taekwondo athletes, at a press conference held the day prior to the World Taekwondo Grand Prix Sofia – branded “Best of the Beasts” – kicks off for its three-day run at the Exhibition Forum Event Center at the city’s landmark Hotel Marinela.

It is the first time the elite World Taekwondo Grand Prix series has come to Bulgaria – which next year also hosts the World Taekwondo Junior Championships.

Investing in youth

Bulgaria considers its investments in hosting taekwondo events a gift for the future.

“We have government support, we have the support of the whole country,” said President of the Bulgarian Taekwondo Federation Slavi Binev. “This is the best investment ever in the future of our country and our athletes – we will try to build a model for our youngsters to follow. This something that is left behind in our modern world.”

The Grand Prix will not only serve as precursor ahead of the World Juniors, but also present new opportunities for Bulgarian players.

“This is a test event for what is to come next year,” said Binev, adding that the Bulgarian Taekwondo Federation next year celebrates its 30-year anniversary.

Bulgarian players have not yet medaled in a Grand Prix event, but hope to leverage home town advantage in the days ahead.

“I am very happy that one of the best and most difficult tournaments is here in my homeland,” said Bulgarian athlete Vladimir Dalakliev. “In the past we have had difficulties traveling abroad, but this is our homeland and this is where we will do our best and achieve great results.”

Upcoming innovations

World Taekwondo President Chungwon Choue, who had earlier met Bulgarian Minster of Youth and Sports Minister Krasen Kralev, noted that 2019 is a special year for the federation: It marks the 25th anniversary of the September 1994 Paris IOC session during which taekwondo was declared an official program sport of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Choue then addressed some of the innovations WT will be making for Tokyo 2020.

The first is cameras. “We will use a 4D, 360-degree camera systems – hundreds of cameras will be sited in the taekwondo venue,” Choue said. “We have tested this several times at the Grand Slam,” as well as at the Manchester World Championships.

The 4D camera rig enables “Matrix”-style effects, upgrading taekwondo’s visual spectacle. However, not only does it make the game more spectator-friendly, it also empowers fairness. “There will be no dead angles for referees,” Choue said; the rig will ease the task of instant video replay judges.

The second change is competition uniforms. Players and pundits have complained that the toned physiques of taekwondo athletes are camouflaged by baggy competition uniforms and by protective gear. In response, WT has been experimenting with more stylish armor and clothing.

The new competition uniforms boast new textiles and are slim fitting, Choue said, and will be tested at the next major WT event in Moscow in December. “At the Moscow Grand Prix Final, all athletes will wear the new uniforms,” he said.

A final decision on the adoption of the new competition uniforms for Tokyo 2020 will be made by the World Taekwondo Council in Moscow in December, Choue added.

The track to Tokyo 2020

Some of the world’s top players were also on hand at the press conference.

Team Korea’s Lee Dae-hoon – arguably, the top fighter in the male game at present – noted that, given the rise of formidable, young competitors, he could no longer rest on his laurels.

“I was at the top level, but I think it is a positive thing that a lot of rivals can compete with me,” he said. “I am also learning a lot of things from young players, so this is a positive thing.”

Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist Shuyin “The Beautiful Giraffe” Zheng of Team China was asked to comment on her fierce rivalry with Team Great Britain’s Bianca Walkden. “Bianca is a great opponent and a rival for me,” she said. “She makes me practice more during my training time.”

Walkden’s best friend and roommate, double Olympic champion Jade “The Welsh Wonder” Jones, was asked about her ambition of winning a third gold in Tokyo – which would be a historic feat no other taekwondo fighter has yet achieved.

“It is amazing to have a chance to do something nobody has done before, that is why I get up in the morning, that is why I am here and that is why I am training,” she said. “I believe it can be me! I will put my heart and soul into trying to do that.”

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