Cha, Hwang overcome fear of failure, target gold
By Jung Min-ho
Reigning Olympic taekwondo champions Cha Dong-min and Hwang Kyung-sun’s victories in Beijing were built on resilience, discipline, and nerve at the crucial moment. Since glory four years ago, as the strongest contenders in London this summer, the major challenge they face now is a deep-seated fear of failure.
“My goal is to win gold like I did in Beijing,” Cha said in an interview with The Korea Times. “I feel more confident and comfortable since this is my second attempt for the Olympic gold. Nonetheless, yes, I feel heavy pressure as the games approach.”
Cha in the 87-kilogram and Hwang in the 67-kilogram division, are making a final burst for the London Olympics, which are now just around the corner. Undoubtedly, their sole goal is to defend their titles at the world’s biggest sports competition. Cha said that as the day approaches, the excitement grows. And so does the tension.
“Players and coaching staff are putting their hearts into training to once again achieve our long commitment to gold at the upcoming Olympics,” head coach Kim Sei-hyeok said. “Since the four participants at the Beijing Olympics all returned with gold medals last time, I understand the fans’ high expectations.”
Daba Modibo Keita and Mickael Borot are Cha’s biggest hurdles in again topping the podium. Keita, a Mali hero, is a world-class competitor who took gold at the World Taekwondo Championships in 2007 and 2009. For Hwang, Sarah Stevenson, who defeated her at the World Taekwondo Championships in Gyeongju last year, is the main threat to her title defense. In the interview, Cha was confident about a possible encounter with her strongest rivals.
“Although some athletes have shown a decent performance with great physical conditioning, I believe I can beat them all as long as I’m well-prepared for the games.” Cha said.
Korea is the birth place of taekwondo. Having been introduced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the national team has lived up to its high reputation by winning nine gold, one sliver and two bronzes. With such high expectations, however, a single mistake could take the Olympians from hero to villain at any moment. Having experienced both sides of the coin, Hwang asked for more support for those who lose at the games.
“It was hard when I won a bronze medal at my first Olympics in Athens,” Hwang said. “It felt like a failure and guilty about crushing the fans’ hopes.”
Apart from dealing with the considerable pressure, another variable that could challenge the taekwondo team’s medal hunt is the introduction of an electronic scoring system where athletes have to wear sensors fitted in their body armor and socks. The World Taekwondo Federation has adopted it for the first time for the London Games in an attempt to minimize judging errors. However, concerns have been raised that the participants are not used to the new system.
“This is not the best timing as there could be errors, which might cause massive problems in such a major competition,” Kim said. “Nevertheless, we are trying to become accustomed to the system through adjustment training.”
Kim did not forget to convey the message that the country has to value and respect its own traditional sport for further development.
“As many countries expand their investments in taekwondo, the Korean team’s throne has constantly been threatened by competitors from around the world,” said Kim. “I would like to ask for more support for our traditional sport.”