Taek­wondo takes a step into the fu­ture Glitzy new Grand Slam se­ries in Wuxi shakes up an­cient sport

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By YANG XINWEI yangx­in­wei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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,

World

Taek­wondo pres­i­dent

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