The Turkish national taekwondo team flew to the United Kingdom on Friday ahead of the World Taekwondo Championship that will be held in Manchester on May 15-19.
Sixteen players will represent Turkey in the competition held in Great Britain for the first time. Nur Tatar Askari, Zeliha Ağrıs and İrem Yaman, multiple titleholders in the European championships, are among players to watch. The trio will vie to be the first Turkish female player with two world championship titles.
The Manchester event is key for players to collect points to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the most important championship in taekwondo. A total of 975 players from 150 countries compete, and the Turkish team consists of eight female and eight male players. They will compete in categories ranging from 46 kilos to 87 kilos.
Askari, Ağrıs, Yaman, along with Hatice Kübra İlgün and Nafia Kuş, won one or more medals in previous world championships in their own categories, and Askari and Ağrıs will defend their titles. İrem Yaman was gold winner in the 2015 edition of the event. As for team, Turkey aims to raise its standing with top titles after securing second place among 182 countries in the 2017 world championship.
Metin Şahin, chairman of Turkish Taekwondo Federation, says they had two champions each in the last two world championships and they wanted to build upon this accomplishment. "The team trained well, and we have really successful players. I believe they will accomplish what they set out to do. This is event will directly affect their race to join the Olympics, after all," Şahin said.
Taekwondo is among the most popular martial arts in Turkey, with the third-highest number of professional registered athletes in a sports branch of about 400,000 people. Turkish athletes made headlines in the past decade with multiple accomplishments in international tournaments, often dominating European contests. In the Olympics, Turkey won gold with Servet Tazegül in London in 2012 and silver with Nur Tatar Askari. Askari was also the only Turkish player to win medals in two consecutive Olympics after she won a bronze in Rio in 2016.
The event, which will be held in Manchester Arena, will feature seven mats, allowing the tournament to be compressed into just five days. Along with regular competitors, one refugee team under the World Taekwondo Federation flag will compete in 16 weight categories. A number of activities will also take place on the sidelines of the championships. On May 12, an all-day conference on Sport for Social Development, Safe Sport, Integrity and Compliance will be held with speakers including World Taekwondo President Chungwon Choue and Claude Marshal, the Sports Coordinator for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The World Taekwondo Athletes' Committee election will be also held.