Olympics-Taekwondo-For Tongans, just being at the Games is fulfilling

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July 27, 2021

By Chang-Ran Kim

CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – Tonga’s flag-bearing duo exited the taekwondo Tokyo Olympics tournament after no-contest matches against far superior opponents, but the South Pacific islanders said just getting to compete with the best in the world was gratifying.

“That was the best match I’ve ever played – I got three points,” said Pita Taufatofua, famed for his shirt-less appearances at opening and closing ceremonies at past Olympics.

“That’s two Olympics in a row I’ve gone against the world number one,” he said, referring to Russian heavyweight Vladislav Larin, who thrashed him 24-3.

“I loved it. I was celebrating each and every point just because in Rio I got one point, and today I got two.”

In taekwondo, a point is awarded when the opponent is given a gam-jeom, or a penalty.

“Before I came here, my uncle said to me: ‘If you get two points, that’s a 100% improvement.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll get three’, and look, I got three.”

In the women’s welterweight category a day earlier, Malia Paseka barely fought for two minutes over two matches – the first cut short by the referee after she took a debilitating kick to the head.

When her opponent, Britain’s Lauren Williams, went through to the finals, Paseka returned in the repechage stage, where she racked up enough penalty points for falling to end the contest in one round.

“I’m still proud of what I’ve achieved. There aren’t many who make it to the Olympics,” she said.

Taufatofua, who will go on to compete in sprint kayak next week, said that for him, being an Olympian was all about self-improvement and inspiring others.

“I’m here to become a better version of myself, and that’s why I celebrate each incremental improvement,” the Australian-born 37-year-old said.

“The athlete is a representation of us trying to overcome… There’s people watching and if they see us trying and pushing and maybe it can help them try and push and to me that’s a big win.”

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)