The promise of taekwondo
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson () - September 10, 2006 - 12:00am
Eight jins made up the Philippine team that finished empty-handed in the World Poomsae Championships last Sept. 4-6. They were Robert Danao, Karloff Fontanosa, Jaczerius Panotes, Brian Sabido, James Pascua, Francesca Alarilla, Christine Baldonado and Rani Ann Ortega.

The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) declared the first "taekwondo day" last Sept. 4 to coincide with the opening of the poomsae competitions, which attracted about 600 athletes and officials from 59 nations. The date was chosen because it was on Sept. 4, 1994, when the 103rd International Olympic Committee (IOC) session decided to accept the sport into the official program of the Summer Games. Taekwondo was introduced as a regular Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

With its roots in ancient Korean martial arts, taekwondo emerged as a global sport in 1957. The first world championship was held in 1973 and it was a demonstration sport at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. Bea Lucero and Stephen Fernandez, both bantamweight jins, won bronze medals for the Philippines when taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the Barcelona Games.

At the 2000 Olympics, there were eight taekwondo gold medals at stake in four weight categories (flyweight, featherweight, welterweight and heavyweight) for men and women. Not surprisingly, Korea won three of the eight golds and Greece, US, Cuba, Australia and China shared a gold each.

In 2004, Korea, Chinese-Taipei and China collected two golds apiece with the US and Iran bagging the other two.
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The Philippines has high hopes of someday, claiming an Olympic medal in taekwondo. At the World Championships, Walter Dean Vargas pocketed the bronze in 1993 and Roberto Cruz grabbed silvers in 1995 and 1997. But the Olympic medal has been an elusive target.

In the Asian Games, no Filipino jin has ever won a gold. In 1994, Vargas claimed a silver. In 1998, Donnie Geisler took home a silver and Rodolfo Abratique, Margarita Bonifacio and Nelia Sy a bronze each. In 2002, five Filipinos settled for bronzes – Tshomlee Go, Dindo Simpao, Daleen Cordero, Veronica Domingo and Sally Co.

The outlook to hit paydirt in the coming Doha Asiad brightened after the Philippines picked up six golds at the last Southeast Asian Games courtesy of Esther Marie Singson (later forfeited after she failed a drug test), Go, Mary Antoinette Rivero, Geisler, Kirstie Alora and John Paul Lizardo. Additionally, the Philippines got five silvers and one bronze to cap a stirring performance on the mat.

Lizardo’s feat earned him a two-page profile in the latest issue of the WTF’s official magazine. In the feature, Lizardo explained his taekwondo philosophy, saying, "First of all, true self-confidence – also, knowing what we are capable of and applying what we know – furthermore, as a born-again Christian, knowing that God has given us our talents and that we should use it for the good."

As to how the sport lifts him mentally and physically, Lizardo said:

"It helps me increase my mental power in so many ways before, during and after training. My mental training doesn’t start and end during practice sessions. I do my best to follow my scheduled training. I also maintain the attitude of giving my best each time I train. I treat difficulties as training obstacles that I have to get through.

"Defeats also play an important part in my training and I treat each loss as another chance to stand up. Each task I accomplish takes me closer to victory. My training will definitely contribute to my positive outlook in life."
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Poomsae means form and practitioners display their skills against an imaginary opponent.

"Poomsae has the potential to be a valuable tool to social harmony," said WTF president Chungwon Choue. "It is not kyorugi but it encompasses all of its features of strength, speed and accuracy. Through poomsae, we hope to show that taekwondo is also about technique and grace. I also believe that poomsae will be beneficial to athletes with disabilities, for them to gain self-confidence and fulfill their Olympic dreams. I hope someday, poomsae will be accepted by the International Paralympic Committee."

At the WTF General Assembly meeting in Ho Chi Minh City last July, it was decided to establish a special committee tasked with the mission of finding ways to include poomsae in the official program of the Paralympics.

The expectation is sooner or later, poomsae will be part of the Paralympic calendar as no less than IOC president Dr. Jacques Rogge of Belgium has openly affirmed taekwondo’s influence on the youth to embrace the values of respect and fair play.

Although no Filipino won a medal in poomsae, four female jins garnered bronzes in the first two days of the second Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships that immediately followed the "form" competitions.

Winning bronzes were Loraine Catalan, Rivero, Richelle Dinolan and Rachel Marcial.

In the first Korea Open last year, the country’s female jins garnered two silvers and three bronzes. The second placers were Kathleen Alora and Singson while the bronze medalists were Catalan, Kirstie Alora and Sally Solis. Dax Morfe was the only Filipino male who brought back a medal – a middleweight bronze.

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