Park Woo-hyuk aims for a second straight taekwondo world title

One day in 2016, when he was a freshman at Gangwon Cheego, coach Lee Won-ho (now head coach of Cheorwon County) asked him to take off his shirt. “You’re only 80 kilograms, so let’s go to this weight class,” he said. That was the moment when national taekwondo champion Park Woo-hyuk (23, Samseong S.W.O.) decided to try out for the 80-kilogram division.

The men’s 80 kilogram category has a different meaning. It’s a weight class that’s been a source of pride for Korea, a country that has won a record 12 Olympic gold medals. Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since Sydney 2000, but South Korea hasn’t even competed in the 80-kilogram category, let alone won a medal.

When taekwondo was first introduced to the Olympic program, countries were only allowed to compete in two men’s and two women’s divisions in order to prevent medals from going to South Korea. South Korea did not send an athlete in the less competitive men’s 80-kilogram division.

The weight class was dominated by the likes of five-time world champion Steven Lopez (45, USA) and Athens-Beijing gold medalist Hadi Saei (47, Iran).

However, since Rio 2016, South Korea has been able to compete in all weight classes since the WTF awarded automatic qualification to the top five ranked athletes. However, the men’s 80-kilogram category remains the only one of the eight Olympic taekwondo weight classes that South Korea has never competed in, with no athletes ranked in the top five at either Rio or Tokyo.

Park Woo-hyuk is the savior of this situation. He won the 80-kilogram title at the World Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year. “I feel more responsible because it’s a weight class that I’ve been weak in,” Park said recently at the Samsung Life Human Center in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

He was introduced to taekwondo at the age of seven, when his parents sent him to a gym to curb his playfulness, but his aptitude soon blossomed.

“When I was in fourth grade, I won a tournament in Gangwon Province, beating all of my sixth-grade brothers, and that’s when I decided to dedicate my life to taekwondo.”

He went on to train at Gangwon Chego and Korea Sports University before joining Samsung S One Taekwondo this year. In taekwondo, it’s just as hard to make the national team as it is to win a medal at an international competition, but he hasn’t missed the national team for five consecutive years since 2019.

At 192 centimeters, he doesn’t have much of a height disadvantage on the international stage, but his leg length is a problem. “Western players are so long-legged that you think, ‘This is enough to dodge,’ but their feet fly in your face,” he says, adding that he makes up for his physical disadvantage with speed and flexibility.메이저사이트

“If things don’t go my way, I’m very good at changing my attacking style on the fly,” he said, attributing it to the endless simulations he runs in his head. “When I go to the bathroom or lie down, I often watch videos of my matches, and I imagine myself fighting with myself in the video, and I do image training. When I try out so many techniques in my head, they come out quickly in the match.”

Park will attempt to win a second consecutive men’s 80-kilogram title at the 2023 World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Sept. 29. World No. 1 Maksim Kramtkov (25-RUS), who was unable to compete at last year’s World Championships, will be competing as an individual.

“Between this World Championships, this year’s Asian Games and next year’s Olympics, I will accomplish what no one has ever done in the 80 kilogram category,” Park said.

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