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Veteran taekwondo practitioner vows to restore honor in Rio

2016/07/13 15:34

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, July 13 (Yonhap) -- For South Korean taekwondo practitioner Cha Dong-min, the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics is a great opportunity to restore his honor.

Cha is already an Olympic champion. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, he beat Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece for the gold medal in the men's over-80kg division. But four years later in London, he was dealt a stunning loss to Bahri Tanrikulu of Turkey in the quarterfinals and failed to defend his title.

Although he was suffering from a right knee injury then, Cha's loss at the 2012 London Games was considered a surprise because South Koreans had gone undefeated in the heaviest weight class since taekwondo was first contested at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.

"I want to rebuild South Korea's legacy in the men's over-80kg division in Rio," Cha said on Wednesday at the National Training Center in Seoul. "I want to restore my honor."

   Cha said he also wants to help South Korea to solidify its reputation as the birthplace of taekwondo. South Korean taekwondo practitioners have collected 14 Olympic medals, 10 of which are gold, the most among all nations. But while they produced four medals each in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, South Koreans only won a gold and a silver medal in London.

"It is true that there's been an increase in parity in taekwondo," he said. "In my weight class, there are tall fighters who have good agility. But I have already finished analyzing them and I'm ready to fight."

   Cha will be the first South Korean male taekwondo fighter to make three consecutive Olympic appearances. When asked what is different this time than the past two Summer Games, he said he feels more comfortable. Cha is scheduled to compete at Carioca Arena 3 on Aug. 20, the last day of the taekwondo event at the Rio Games.

"In Beijing, I was thrilled to be at the Olympics, and in London, I felt so much pressure because I was under the spotlight as the top gold medal hopeful," he said. "Now, it feels almost the same as the 2008 Olympics, but I feel more comfortable."

   At age 29, Cha is the oldest taekwondo fighter for South Korea in Rio. Among the five members, only Cha and Lee Dae-hoon in the men's under-67kg division have experienced the Olympics before. Cha said he often gives advice to young teammates on how to deal with the Games.

"I have experienced both success and failure," he said. "Just like I was in 2012, Lee is now receiving so much spotlight from the media and fans. But Lee listens to my words carefully every time."

   Cha, who earned his spot based on the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) Olympic rankings, wasn't able to compete at the 2015 World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, as he failed to pass the national team selection trials. However, he did go to Russia as an strategy analyst for the national team.

"I broadened my views on taekwondo through that experience," he said. "I found out how other fighters land a kick and what their attacking strategies are in general. It really helped me to develop my own skills."

   Cha said the Rio Games will likely be his last Olympics, but as a veteran, he wants to set an example for young taekwondo practitioners.

"If I perform well this time, young taekwondo fighters will have the hope and desire to compete longer in this sport," Cha said. "After winning the gold medal at the Rio Olympics, I want to study and learn foreign languages for my future career."

  

South Korean national taekwondo practitioners pose for a photo after their training at National Training Center in Seoul on July 13, 2016. From left are: Cha Dong-min, Lee Dae-hoon, Kim Tae-hun, Oh Hye-ri and Kim So-hui. (Yonhap) South Korean national taekwondo practitioners pose for a photo after their training at National Training Center in Seoul on July 13, 2016. From left are: Cha Dong-min, Lee Dae-hoon, Kim Tae-hun, Oh Hye-ri and Kim So-hui. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr

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