Turkish taekwondo has returned from England as the second most successful team at this year’s European Taekwondo Championships, winning a total of seven medals over the three-day competition.
The European Taekwondo Championship has been put on every other year by the European Taekwondo Union since 1976. This year it was held in Manchester on May 3-6 and French competitors dominated, taking home three gold, three silver and four bronze medals, 10 in all. The Turkish team -- led by its women -- followed them up with three gold, one silver and three bronze, edging out Russia, which made off with three gold, one silver and two bronze. The hosts also took three gold medals, but had no silver and four bronze. A martial art that developed to train soldiers in unarmed combat in Korea in the 1950s, taekwondo is loosely translated as “the way of the hand and foot.” It is differentiated from other martial arts by its emphasis on striking with the bare feet rather than the hands, making use of the greater reach and strength present in the legs.
By the early ‘60s, taekwondo had begun spreading outside of Korea. The International Taekwon-Do Federation was founded in 1966 and the World Taekwondo Federation in 1973. Sparring has been an Olympic event -- one of two martial arts -- since 2000 and taekwondo was the world’s most popular martial art in 1989.
In 1968, taekwondo became an official branch of Turkey’s Judo Federation and Turkey first participated in the European Championship in 1976. Breaking off from the Judo Federation five years later, the Turkish Taekwondo Federation was founded in 1981. Though it is not often talked about, Turkey has a long history and many successes in the sport.
Hatice Kübra Yangın, Nur Tatar and Servet Tazegül are among Turkey’s world-class taekwondo practitioners and won gold medals this year. Just 23 years old, Yangın competes in the Bantomweight division and this is not her first successful foray into international competitions, as the Kütahya-born athlete has competed in 12 international competitions since she took to the sport when she was 13, taking home medals in most, including a bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Gyeongju, Korea.
Yangın after the awards ceremony described the moment she became champion, saying: “I got so carried away I didn’t know [that I had won], I was thinking about the second kick. I turned, everyone was cheering, and I said, ‘That’s it’.” Flying high after her victory, she is already looking ahead, determined to make her mark on the Summer Olympics in London this year. “I want to make them play the İstiklal Marşı [the Turkish national anthem] at the Olympics,” said Tatar. Her teammate Tatar is a 19-year-old who has been known to compete in the feather, light and welterweight divisions for Ankara’s TSE Sports Club. She also has an enviable list of medals from A-class international championships, including two golds and a bronze in European Youth Championships between 2007 and 2010, and then silver at the 2010 European Championships in St. Petersburg.
One of the biggest names in Turkish taekwondo is German-born featherweight Servet Tazegül, who won his country gold at the recent European Championship, in addition to those in 2008 in Rome and 2010 in St. Petersburg. The 23-year-old was also World Champion at Gyeongju in 2011 and won bronze in Copenhagen in 2009 after his 68-kilogram-class bronze at the Beijing Summer Olympics the year before. He is also part of the Turkish Olympic team, along with Bahri Tanrıkulu, a world-class fighter who was surprisingly knocked out of this competition early.
A former European champion in the lightweight division, 27-year-old Rıdvan Baygut walked away with silver this year, as Russia’s Aliaskhab Sirazhov ended his quest to retain the title for three consecutive years. Baygut won bronze at Gyeongju last year and is looking to move up the rankings in future events. “I was ahead 5-3 and lost in the last five seconds. My opponent kicked at my head and missed. Although he missed, the referee counted it and my opponent pulled ahead,” Baygut explained how he was eliminated. In taekwondo competitions, one point is awarded for punches to the head or body, two points for kicks to the body and three points for kicks to the head. “I was European Champion twice. I tried really hard for a third time but it didn’t happen. It wasn’t meant to be,” he added.
Rukiye Yıldırım, the 21-year-old finweight who won the 2010 European Championship in St. Petersburg, managed to win bronze this time around, as she did in Korea last year. She lost against Greece’s Ionna Koutsou, whom she had beaten before. She was happy with the medal, but believes she deserved gold for all her dedication. “I am happy that I got some return for all the work I put in. God willing, I will get a full return by winning gold in upcoming competitions,” Yıldırım said about her performance. “It would have been better had I won the gold, but that was fate,” she added.
Ali Sarı and Fırat Pozan are two more world-class competitors who also won bronze at the competition. “This is my second European Championship. I lost in the first and I wanted to win the gold in the second. I was unlucky,” Sarı said, making his intentions known. Pozan similarly stated his plans for the future, saying, “After this, my goal is to work even harder to be successful in the Olympics and world championships.”