Taekwondo takes a step into the future Glitzy new Grand Slam series in Wuxi shakes up ancient sport
The ancient art of taekwondo is about get a makeover.
The inaugural World Taekwondo Grand Slam Champions Series — boasting major prize money, Olympic qualification and glitzy production values — hopes to sprinkle a little stardust on the sport when it kicks off in Wuxi, Jiangsu province in November.
The new competition was unveiled at a media conference on Monday in Beijing, attended by Gou Zhongwen, director of the State General Administration of Sports, World Taekwondo president Chungwon Choue, Olympic champions Zhao Shuai and Zheng Shuying and top brass from the Chinese Olympic Committee and the Wuxi Municipal People’s Government.
“We are very excited to announce the Grand Slam series, which we believe will generate more media exposure than ever before for taekwondo,” said Choue.
“China is very important to WT because it has so many taekwondo practitioners. However, unlike soccer, ping pong, basketball and volleyball, where you have many stars, taekwondo has none.
“But this tournament will change that.”
Wuxi will host all of the series’ eight tournaments through to early 2018 and then will continue as host through 2020, Choue and Jinbang Yang, WT director-general, revealed.
Each tournament will be dedicated to the eight Olympic weight categories (four female, four male), with a total of $800,000 in prizemoney on offer for the 2017-18 series.
The winner of each category this year will pocket $70,000, with the runner-up bagging $20,000 and the third-place finisher earning $10,000.
Twelve of the division’s best athletes will also battle it out for qualification spots for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the competitor with the most accumulated points over the three years earning a ticket to the Games.
The invited athletes for each tournament will be the Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist, and two gold medalists from the 2017 World Taekwondo Championships (the world championships feature twice as many weight categories as the Olympics).
Also invited will be the champion of the Grand Prix Final; the three winners of the Grand-Prix Series held earlier in 2017; and the winner of the 2016 Grand-Prix Final.
If the same athlete wins more than one Grand Prix event or should any drop out, the top eight will round off with the next competitor(s) in the WT Olympic rankings.
In addition, the host country receives one wild card. The last three athletes in each tournament/weight category will be selected in a preGrand Slam qualification tournament.
These last three athletes could come from other combat sports, such as wushu or International Taekwondo Federation taekwondo — although in the qualification tournament and in the Grand Slam series they will fight under World Taekwondo rules.
“The series is not only for taekwondo athletes, it is also open to other martial arts athletes as long as they follow our rules,” said Choue.
“We desperately need taekwondo stars. We have many talented athletes, but until now, we don’t have media stars. Compared to boxing, our money is really nothing.”
Hoping to fit the star billing is Zhao Shuai, who became China’s first male taekwondo Olympic champion when he won the 58kg title in Rio.
“The series is not only great for a taekwondo athlete like me, but it will enhance the development of the sport in China and around the world,” said Zhao, who last month doubled up with bantamweight gold at the world championships in Muju, South Korea.
“Big prizemoney is, of course, great ... but the chance to compete against the world’s elite and earn points to qualify for the Olympics matters more to me.”
In close consultation with World Taekwondo, the Wuxi Organizing Committee has created a purpose-built taekwondo venue for the series.
“It’s a great honor and pleasure for Wuxi to host the World Taekwondo Champions Series, the only qualification trial for the Olympics in China,” said Liu Xia, vicemayor of Wuxi.
“The series is more than just a wonderful sports event, it is a festival. The city will spare no effort to prepare for the spectacular competition and make every endeavor to promote taekwondo inside and outside China.”
China is very important to WT because it has so many taekwondo practitioners.” Chungwon Choue,