On the Edge of the Mats at the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships



[Female] -46kg Category Final
Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit, the world-ranked number 10, faced Ukraine’s Iryna Romoldanova, the world-ranked number eight. The Thai, with bobbed hair and flashing grin, looked cheerful as she prepared for battle; the Ukrainian looked nervy. It proved a see-saw match. Wongpattanakit, with a slight reach advantage, took control of the center of the ring from the opening and pressed Romaldonova, firing off ambidextrous kicks. Her opponent played a cagier game, favoring her front foot. Romoldanova drew first blood – but the score was almost immediately reversed. At the end of Round 1, it was 3-2 to Wongpattanakit. Round 2 saw the Thai fighter leveraging her leg length and ring control, ending the round 5-2 up. Round 3 started off with more foot fencing, then Romoldanova levelled the score to 5-5, with a jackhammer side kick to the torso. The match went to golden point.
For the first minute and a half, it was tactical combat with no score, meaning Wongpattanakit would likely win on superiority (i.e. the number of impacts on the padding). In the last 20 seconds, Romoldanova went for broke, charging her opponent with a barrage of kicks, but she had left it too late: Her last kick landed – literally – as the Thai raised her hands in victory to take the gold.
Wan-ting Lin of Chinese Taipei and Brazil’s Iris Tang Sing both took home bronzes but Romoldanova had won her country its first-ever World Taekwondo Championships medal.


[Male] -58kg Category Final
This final saw world number-one ranked Farzan “The Tsunami” Ashourzadeh Fallah of Iran take on Belgian Si Mohammed Ketbi, who was fighting under the WTF flag and was ranked ninth. The Iranian is one of the most dominant fighters in taekwondo today; Ketbi is still at school, but the two have similar styles: Both are tall, leggy athletes who fight tactically, using conservative, long-range techniques, mostly to the body. The Iranian loped onto the mat with a broad grin and opened the scoring as the pair put on a display of foot fencing; the round ended 3-0 in the Iranian’s favor. Ketbi fought back in Round 2, varying his attack with punches. At the end of the round, it was 5-2 to the Iranian.
In Round 3, Ashourzadeh Fallah controlled the center of the court like the master of physical chess he is: With only 30 seconds left on the clock, it was 7-2 to the Iranian. The Belgian upped his work rate, but was not firing the kind of high-scoring, high-risk techniques he needed to. Though he unleashed a head kick in the final seconds, it was too little, too late. “The Tsunami” flashed a huge grin and pointed at the crowd. Final score: 8-3.
With Ketbi taking silver, Russia’s Ruslan Poiseev and China’s Shuai Zhao won bronzes.


[Female] -49kg Category Final
The final of the female -49kg looked like a mismatch as the world-ranked 96 took on a double Olympic gold medalist. Korea’s Min-ah Ha, 96th ranked by the WTF, faced 17th ranked Jingyu Wu of China, a double Olympic gold medalist from London 2012 and Beijing 2008 who was returning to taekwondo after a layoff.
Ha looked composed, Wu determined as they strode onto the battleground. Both share similar attributes: excellent timing, distancing, flexibility and tactics. Ha drew first blood almost immediately with a body kick; Wu returned fire, evening the score to 1-1. In Round 2, Wu’s lightning right leg gave her a two-point lead as the Korean’s pace slowed – then Wu back-pedaled around the perimeter as Ha got her second wind. In Round 3, with 18 seconds left on the clock, Ha’s coach appealed a head kick – unsuccessfully. Tension mounted. Ha pulled back a point to 2-3, then – in the last second! – evened the fight to 3-3. In golden point, Wu looked more aggressive, but seconds in, it was Ha who caught the Chinese player in the midsection, becoming, against all odds, world champion; an astonishing victory.
Bronzes were won by Russia’s Svetlana Igumenova and Serbia’s Tijana Bogdanovic.


[Male] -74kg Category Final
In this category, Iran’s Masoud “The Warrior” Hajizavareh took on Uzbekistan’s Nikita Rafalovich. From the start, neither man gave an inch, dueling in center court. Hajizavareh caught the Uzbek by surprise with a high kick, winning three points, following up with a punch, for a 4-0 lead. Trusting to his reflexes and distancing, Hajizavareh dropped down into low, open stances, taunting his opponent. Rafalovich was game, but the Iranian’s accuracy proved superior: another out-of-the-blue ax kick rattled Rafalovich. Round 2 ended 2-8. In the final round, Rafalovich finally found his distance, clawing back the score to 4-8, before the match degenerated into a scrappy affair of clinching – during which the Iranian stole another point with a rabbit kick. As the seconds counted down, the Uzbek went all out, but Hajizavareh kept his cool and took the title 9-7.
Bronzes were won by Russia’s Albert Gaun and Mali’s Ismael Coulibaly.


[Famale] -67kg Category Final
The world number- eight, Chia Chia Chuang of Chinese Taipei squared off against seventh-ranked Nur Tatar of Turkey. The match started with cautious foot jabbing, but with neither fighter finding the range, the round ended 0-0. In the second, with the referee demanding action, Chuang finally connected, scoring a single point with a turning kick to the body. In the third, the action briefly heated up, but despite the flurry of techniques, the scoreboard remained frozen. Only in the last 15 seconds did the Turk engage all-out-attack mode. In a flurry of kicks, she drove her opponent to the edge of the mats – only to impale herself on Chuang’s perfectly-timed spin kick, earning the athlete from Chinese Taipei a convincing 5-0 victory and the world championship gold.
Paige McPherson of the U.S.A. and Colombia’s Katherine Dumar went home with bronzes.


[Male]  -68kg Category Final
The final of this category proved to what posterity will surely rank as a classic match – one that fans will be watching for years to come – as world-ranked number one Alexei Denisenko of Russia took on Turkey’s Servet “The Cheetah” Tazegul, the gold medalist in London 2012. The Russian is known for his flamboyant aerial techniques, while the fearless Tazegul is one of the most exciting fighters ever to don a dobok.

Denisenko strode on to the mats to thunderous applause from the hometown crowd, followed by Tazegul, who raised his head protector in salute. Both looked tense, perhaps sensing that there was more at stake than simply a world championship: The crowd was anticipating a classic battle – a Hector versus Achilles, an Ali versus Frazier. And they were not disappointed. At the opening bell, Tazegul leapt into the attack, driving his opponent off the mat with serial jumping spinning kicks and opening the scoring with a one-point lead. After this initial explosion, things briefly slowed down – then Tazegul unleashed his patented spin back kick, earning three points. Denisenko returned fire, connecting with a head kick from the clinch. Three points flashed up on the board – but were deducted: The hit had been on the break. Both athletes recommenced, kicking with real venom, and Denisenko connected to the head. Round 1 ended 5-4 to Tazegul.
Early in Round 2 Denisenko leveled it to 5-5, driving the crowd wild as they watched two perfectly matched fighters firing taekwondo’s full arsenal at one another. The Turk fired a spin kick, the Russian shot back with a head kick, the Turk ducked it. In blink-and-you-miss-it action, the board went to 6-6, then 7-7. In Round 3 Tazegul punched and Denisenko responded with a left-right kick barrage. Tazegul’s wicked spinning back kick struck again, taking his score to 10 points. Denisenko tried to drop the ax, but fell. In the dying seconds, the Russian appeared to land a head kick but to no avail. The round ended, the smoke cleared, the score was 10-7 and the world champion was Servet Tazegul. An awesome, awesome match.
Korea’s Dong-yun Shin and Spain’s Jose Antonio Rosillo Atencia won bronzes.


[Female] -53kg Category Final
Korea’s 17-year-old Geum-byeol Lim, world-ranked 27, took on Chinese Taipei’s Yun-wen Huang, the top seed in the category, for the gold. The opening round was lackluster. Both athletes foot-fenced, leaving the scoreboard frozen at the end of the round. The second was livelier. Lim’s entertainingly vocal coach appealed a head kick, which was awarded, giving her three points. Lim then grabbed another point, compelling Huang to attack. She drove Lim to the edge of the mats, picking up two points in the process. The round ended 5-2 to Lim. Round 3 began with Huang driving Lim around the perimeter and the score rose to 6-3, then another appeal by the Korean coach was accepted, granting nine points to Lim. Yet another video replay appeal was rejected. With 25 seconds to go, Huang went all out, but the match ended 10-5 to the Korean youth – the second upset of the championships to be delivered by the Korean women’s squad.
Greece’s Andriana Asprogeraka and Croatia’s Ana Zaninovic won bronzes.


[Female] +73kg Category Final
Great Britain’s fifth-ranked Bianca “Queen Bee” Walkden faced off against French legend Gwladys Epangue, fourth-ranked in the world. In Round 1, the tall, leggy Briton started fast, firing jackhammer side kicks: her stockier, powerful-looking opponent kept her distance and stalked the center of the ring. There was a brief flurry of venomous kicks, but neither found the range, with the French girl daring Walkden to score by opening her arms. The round ended with the scores level at 0-0. Round 2 also ended with the scoreboard empty.
Round 3, however, was high drama. Epangue finally connected with a round kick to the body, giving her a one-point lead. She maintained that until, with just 22 seconds remaining, the French girl faltered and the British girl scored to the head. Three points appeared on the board – but were disallowed. The British girl lost a penalty point, then, with 10 seconds left, the French girl fell again – the two falls giving Walkden a point. With barely seconds left on the clock, Walkden, firing on all cylinders, connected with a crescent kick to the head. The points flashed up, the disbelieving Epangue looked devastated and the final score was 4-2 to the Briton with the sting in her tail.
Turkey’s Nafia “The Amazon” Kus and Chelyabinsk native Olga Ivanova of Russia took bronzes.


[Male] -54kg Category Final
Tae-hun Kim of Korea, the defending world champion, took on 25th ranked Russian Denisov Stanislav who entered the field of play to booming applause.
In Round 1 the Russian fought flamboyantly with spinning and jumping kicks while the Korean played a tactical game, controlling center ring. Neither registered a hit, leaving the board empty at the end of Round 1. In Round 2, the Korean scored with a fast turning kick to the body, then another, giving him a two-point lead. Denisov tried to land his flying spinning back kick, but Kim kept racking up the points, ending the round 5-0.
In Round 3, Kim, his target-radar firmly locked on, fired fast and furious, opening his lead to 9-0. The Russian finally scored, winning three points with a spin back kick, then charged into the attack. In the dying seconds, the two athletes went at each other all out – spinning, jumping and kicking. The final score, after the last, explosive seconds, was 14-7 to Kim.
Venilton Torres of Brazil and Ramnarong Sawekwiharee of Thailand shared bronze medals.


[Female] -73kg Category Final
Korea’s Hye-ri Oh went into action against China’s Shuyin Zheng – and the two got straight down to business. In a flurry of flying feet, the score went 1-1, then 2-2. After a brief pause, Oh landed a side kick, but this, too, was soon equalized, leaving the scoreboard at 3-3. In Round 2, Zheng pressed forward, putting Oh on the back leg, but the Korean was not intimidated and raised the score to 4-3. The round ended with some scrappy work as both girls closed from kicks to clinches. In the last round, Zheng went in pursuit of Oh, but could not connect. More clinchwork followed, then in the last 35 seconds, Zheng levelled it to 4-4. The Korean, who had been leading consistently, returned fire almost immediately. When the bell went, Oh’s coach leapt into the air with delight at a 5-4 victory.
Croatia’s Iva Rados and Team USA’s Jackie Galloway settled for bronzes.


[Male] -87kg Category Final
In this division, Radik Isaev of Azerbaijan faced Jasur Baykuziyev of Uzbekistan. Things started slowly, with both men probing at long range. The round ended 0-0. In the second, Isaev landed a body kick, taking the round 1-0. Round 3 was far more action-packed. Isaev stabbed away with his side kick; Baykuziyev tried to close the gap with punches. Isaev struck with a turning kick to the body after his ringcraft put his opponent on the edge of the mats, then added another point, making it 3-0. The Uzbek landed a crescent kick to the face that did not score; he immediately signaled his coach, who flashed his red card for a replay. Result: no score. Then Baykuziyev fell, axed with a heel kick to the back of the head. There was a brief pause while medics came on. He was soon up again, having been awarded a penalty point, but Isaev took his score back up, 5-1.
With 30 seconds remaining, Baykuziyev went into full attack mode, lifting the score to 5-3, and forcing his larger opponent of the mat with a flurry of techniques. With seven seconds on the clock, he was head-hunting, pressuring the back-pedaling Isaev. Two seconds out, the Uzbek had raised the score to 5-4, but it was too late to equalize. As the bell went, a delighted Isaev hurled his head gear to the mat and grabbed his coach in a bear hug.
Bronzes went to Vladislav Larin of Russia and Rafael Castillo of Cuba.


[Male] +87kg Category Final
For gold in the men’s heavyweight category, Dmitriy Shokin of Uzbekistan squared off with the crowd-pleasing Firmin Zokou of Cote d’Ivoire. Round 1 started with foot fencing and probing, then, in a flurry of shots, the scoreboard rang up 3-2 to the Uzbek. Round 2 was a rough affair. Zokou held firm, not retreating an inch. In an intense, close-in exchange, Shokin took a punch in the mouth; after being examined by medics, he was awarded a penalty point. Action restarted and he scored with his own fist, taking the board to 5-2. Both athletes were now fighting with wicked intensity. Zokou clawed back the score to 3-2, then, in a flurry, the board shot up to 6-6. Suddenly, it was 6-9 as Zokou connected with a side kick-jump spinning back kick combination – perhaps the most spectacular combo yet seen in the finals, a technique more commonly seen in kung fu cinema than actual sportive competition. An appeal by Shokin was denied, leaving the Cote d’Ivorian in the lead.
Round 3 started with fireworks. The Uzbek fired side kicks and ax kicks, even landing a flying side kick, but not scoring. With a body kick, Zokou went up, 10-6. Shokin fought back with kick-punch combos, winning a point, then another, making it 9-10. In the last ten seconds, another punch took the scores to 10-10, but the board readjusted to 9-10. With five seconds remaining, the Uzbek coach appealed what appeared to be a point deduction for grabbing. It was successful. The board returned to 10-10. Neither man scored, taking the fight to sudden death.
The two shook hands before the final showdown. Then it was game on. Zokou attacked with an overhand punch – but from underneath, displaying perfect timing, Shokin buried a side kick in the African’s chest guard, winning golden point and gold medal. The Uzbek grabbed his coach in a bear hug, while Zokou hurled away his head gear and sank to the mat, devastated.
Robelis Despaigne of Cuba and Anthony Obame of Gabon won bronzes.


[Female] -62kg Category Final
In this division, Turkey’s Irem Yaman faced Spain’s Marta Calvo Gomez.
Both girls kicked off with stabbing side kicks, then varied their attacks with head kicks, but it was the Spaniard who scored first with a turning kick, ending Round 1, 1-0. Early in Round 2, the Turkish athlete found the range and took the score to 3-1; both girls then closed and fought, with the round ending 2-4 to Yaman. In Round 3, the Spaniard sneaked a hook kick to the body; the Turk fired back with a series of machine-gun turning kicks to the head taking the board to 4-7, then 4-8. With the seconds ticking away, Calvo Gomez was forced to attack, which was risky: Yaman had looked dangerous on the counter. Carlo Gomez fought forward and paid the price: The Turk landed on the high line, winning gold with a convincing 14-4 win.
Rachelle Booth of Great Britain and Viktoryia Belanouskaya of Belarus had to settle for bronzes.


[Female] -57kg Category Final
The final of the division pitted Japan’s Maya Hamada against Spain’s Eva Calvo Gomez – Marta’s sister. At the start, Carlo Gomez looked livelier, circling her bigger opponent, flicking out her front leg like a snake’s tongue. But it was Hamada who got the first hit, a turning kick to the body, ending Round 1 1-0. The second round got off at a quick pace with front leg action from both girls and Hamada raising the score to 2-0 before Calvo Gomez connected, making it 2-1. Then Hamada kicked on the mid-line and, without dropping her foot, doubled up high, catching the unsuspecting Spaniard on the head guard with a turning kick. Round 2 ended 5-1 to Hamada. Seeking a high-scoring technique, Carlo Gomez let rip in Round 3 with a series of spin heel head kicks, but failed to connect. In the last 30 seconds, she pressured the Japanese fighter to the edge of the mats and raised the board to 3-5, but too late: The match ended with gold for Hamada and the championship’s second silver for a Calvo Gomez.
Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin and Hungary’s Edina Kotsis won bronzes.


[Male] -63kg Category Final
Belgian Jaouad Achab, fighting under the WTF flag, took on Spaniard Joel Gonzalez Bonilla for the gold. The Belgian boy has some of the best footwork on the mats, and from the start, looked fast, stylish and dangerous. Even so, Round 1 ended scoreless. In the second, Achab registered on the board with a punch, taking Round 2 1-0. Round 3 offered more action. In a flurry, both men were connecting, but it was Achab who scored with a crescent kick to the head. Bonilla managed to up the score with a turning kick fired on the retreat, 5-2. Soon after, the Spanish coach called for a video replay for a head kick, but the screen clearly showed that Achab had blocked: The request was denied. In the last 30 seconds, both lads got really busy, flying across the mats, locked in combat. Bonilla took the scoreboard from 3-7 to 4-7 and then 5-7; the Belgian was briefly floored and in the last few seconds, looked like he was playing for time. But he hung on and the fight ended 6-7, giving Achab the gold.
Iran’s Abolfazl Yaghoubiyoubari and Mexico’s Saul Gutierrez won bronzes.


[Male] -80kg Category Final
The championship’s last final, was the men’s -80kg division, in which Iranian Mahdi “The Terminator” Khodabakhshi took to the mats against Great Britain’s Damon Sansum. The Iranian is one of the most economical fighters in the sport; with his near-perfect distancing and timing, he makes it look easy. In Round 1 the Iranian scored a point almost immediately, then another, before chopping a kick almost nonchalantly onto the Briton’s head. He continued racking up the points, before Sansum came back with a cut kick. The round ended 7-1. Picking off points like a sniper, the Iranian relentlessly raised his score, point by point, in Round 2, until Sansum managed to maneuver him to the edge of the area and connect, raising his points to 3 against Khodabakhshi’s 13. In Round 3, Khodabakhshi decided to finish it. He attacked immediately, scoring with a head kick and taking the match 16-3 for a win on point gap. In all, it was a supreme performance by a master of his art and a well-deserved gold for “The Terminator”.
Moldova’s Aaron Cook and Germany’s Tahir Guelec were left with bronzes.


In a wrap-up press conference, WTF President Chungwon Choue called Chelyabinsk 2015 the most successful taekwondo championships ever, citing, in particular, the crowd and the volunteers, and saying he felt “sad” to leave such a “wonderful event.” WTF Secretary General Hoss Rafaty added, “Chelyabinsk has created a new standard for taekwondo events.”
The 22nd World Championships wound down after six days of play with a closing ceremony. World Championships are held biannually; the next, the 23rd, takes place in Muju, Korea in 2017.