The 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships will bring together the planet’s strongest athletes. Stars of world taekwondo will also come to Chelyabinsk. We introduce ten most decorated taekwondoists of the world. We note here Afghanistan’s national hero, an extremely talented Cook from Britain who has no world championships medals, an African upstart from Gabon and, probably, the main star of men’s taekwondo – American Steven Lopez.
10. Sebastian CRISMANICH (Argentina)
The men’s -80kg weight category might well be the most interesting one and filled with A-list stars. Here is the world ranking leader Aaron Cook (Great Britain) that we’ll speak about below. A most talented Iranian Mehdi Khodabakhshi. An uncompromising German Tahir Gülec. Finally, a five-time world champion, American Steven Lopez.
Argentinean Sebastian Crismanich does not vanish in such a star-studded company. He already has an Olympic gold of London 2012. He is doing great this season, as well, being in top three of the world ranking. Successful was his performance at the Grand Prix Final not long ago with a victory in the very first fight against Aaron Cook. There is not a single doubt that he will be one of the main contenders for the title on Chelyabinsk mats. Not least because Crismanich has long deserved to become a medalist of world championships. It is strange his collection is still short of a world championships medal.
9. Rohullah NIKPAI (Afghanistan)
A cult figure for his country. It was Rohullah Nikpai who won the first Olympic medal in Afghanistan’s history. After his bronze in Beijing 2008 he returned to his motherland a real hero.
For many years he continued to perform successfully in international tournaments. He proved his high status on one more Olympics – in 2012 in London he became a bronze medalist. In 2011 he was third at the world championships, as well.
Now he doesn’t often enter the dojang, the age is beginning to tell. But with his experience and skill, Rohullah Nikpai can beat anyone. And every opponent should take him seriously.
8. Mehdi KHODABAKHSHI (Iran)
Iranians have every right to be proud of their strong athletes. In world taekwondo, representatives of this country have long been among the leaders. If would suffice to recollect Hadi Saei, a two-time Olympic champion. Along with Steven Lopez, he is the most decorated Olympian in taekwondo history.
The present generation of Iranians also shows decent performances in international tournaments. Mehdi Khodabakhshi is definitely one of them. In the -80kg weight category he is a favorite of any competition. Among other things, he stands out thanks to his unparalleled technique.
7. Aaron COOK (Great Britain)
‘A guy who is charged for victory,’ this is how Vyacheslav Minin characterizes the Briton. Aaron Cook is a remarkably strong and talented athlete. By his fights, you can make a teaching video for rookie taekwondoists.
Being an undoubted leader of the world -80kg ranking, the Briton, however, has no medals from world championships and Olympic Games. Disappointingly, he fails the main starts of the season.
6. Anthony OBAME (Gabon)
The first and so far only Olympic medalist in Gabon’s history. ‘Africa’s black gold’ competes in the heaviest weight division – over 87 kg. And, it should be admitted, with much success. He is performing well this season and topping the world ranking by a solid margin.
Obame’s rise to fame began in 2012. He became a silver medalist in the Olympic London losing to the Italian Carlo Molfetta in the decisive battle. But some time later he took revenge. The Gabonese triumphed at the 2013 World Championships in Puebla, Mexico. To become the champion, he beat the Iranian Sajjad Mardani in the final.
5. Joel GONZALEZ BONILLA (Spain)
In the previous Olympic cycle this powerful Spaniard won everything he could – world championships in 2009 and 2011, and European championships in 2010 and 2012. To continue his glorious victories, he took the gold in the Olympic London. However, he achieved all this success in the -58kg weight division. Then Joel Gonzalez Bonilla switched for a heavier weight – 68kg – and the results went down.
It is obvious that for the Spaniard it is difficult to show his best in the battles against his new rivals. His prospects here are quite vague. But it doesn’t keep Bonilla from being one of the most decorated and spectacular taekwondoists of today.
4. LEE Dae-Hoon (South Korea)
Taekwondo’s wide spreading throughout the world has affected the prospects of taekwondo founders. Now their leadership is not so obvious. But still, among them there are very talented and strong athletes. Lee Dae-Hoon is among them.
The Korean is an absolute leader of the world -63kg ranking. He is also holding the garland of victory in the Olympic -68kg weigh division. He first made himself known in 2011 when he became a world champion. That success came within home walls. But no later than at the following world championships in Puebla, Mexico, he anchored the result by winning another gold. It should be noted that in the final he beat the competition’s host Abel Mendoza.
We shall also mention his 2012 London silver. In that final he lost to Joel Gonzalez Bonilla from Spain.
3. Carlo MOLFETTA (Italy)
The experienced Italian has been one of the leaders in the heavy weight for many years. You name a title he has not won in his career! His main victory was gained in the Olympic London where Molfetta defeated Anthony Obame from Gabon in the main match.
His collection also features three world championships medals – two silvers and a bronze. The only think lacking is gold. He well might get the remaining medal in Chelyabinsk. Despite his age, he remains a strong and tough opponent.
2. Servet TAZEGÜL (Turkey)
Possibly, the most spectacular athlete in taekwondo history. In the previous Olympic cycle he won absolutely all most important events: the Europeans, the Worlds, the qualifying tournament before the Olympic Games and then the 2012 Olympics themselves. His collection also features bronze medals from world championships and Olympic Games.
Despite all his virtues, Servet Tazegül is by no means an unbeatable athlete. It is no coincidence that he is ranked only third in the world in the -68kg weight, and in the Olympic qualification he is at the end of top five. Nevertheless, note should be taken of the Turk’s ability to get into the right mood for important events. In the critical moment, he shows his best fights.
1. Steven LOPEZ (USA)
The great and terrible American is the most decorated athlete in taekwondo history. He is the one sharing the Olympic medal record with Hadi Saei from Iran. Steven Lopez has three of them – two golds and a bronze. Besides, the American has five (!) world champion’s titles, and all his victories came in the period from 2001 to 2009.
In the USA, he is a public figure and a very popular athlete. Steven Lopez is from an athletic family – his younger brother Mark and his sister Diana are also competing on a high level.
Besides, a hallmark American periodical included the decorated athlete in the list of top 50 most beautiful people of the world.
Steven Lopez is an extremely experienced taekwondoist. Although due to his age, it is hard for him to compete with younger rivals, the American is still one of the leaders in the -80kg weight category. All that is left to do is to marvel and admire his working capacity and great physical form. At the 2015 World Championships he will certainly be one of the main contenders.
P.S. The author of the article would like to thank Chelyabinsk taekwondoists Konstantin Minin, Vyacheslav Minin, Ilya Batrakov, Nikita Korotkov and Maksim Baranovskiy for their help in preparing the material.