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International experience to benefit Australia’s Taekwondo team at Ashgabat 2017

23 August 2017

TAEKWONDO: Six Taekwondo athletes are ready to put their best foot forward when Australia sends its first team to the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) in Ashgabat next month.

With most of the team having made their Australian debuts as teenagers and with several international medals already in the trophy case, the athletes are set to thrive at Turkmenistan’s first international multi-sport competition.

Keshena Waterford and Ruth Hock have recently returned home from the 2017 Taekwondo World Championships in Muju, South Korea.

Both athletes placed equal 17th in their respective weight categories in Muju and will look to carry their strong form into Ashgabat 2017.

“Both Keshena and Ruth performed well at Worlds,” said CEO of Australian Taekwondo, Joelie Chisholm.

“Keshena has overcome some health issues to be back at her best. After being in the lead until the final round against the seeded Kazakhstan athlete, one small mistake cost her the match.

“Ruth is a Supermum,” she continued. “As well as being an elite athlete she also has two young daughters and runs her own Taekwondo Centre in Adelaide. Ruth narrowly lost to a seeded Russian athlete.”

Having recently overcome a blood disorder that set her back last year, 27-year-old Waterford was pleased with her second World Championships performance at Muju that saw her narrowly defeated by Kazakhstan’s Ainur Yesbergenova 17:18

“I fought against number 12 in the world from Kazakhstan and was even ahead in points for most of the match. I unfortunately ended up losing out by 1 point but felt that my overall execution of strategy was strong,” she said

Many of the younger athletes will no doubt look to the Canberran in Ashgabat for guidance on handling the pressures of international competition.

“I have been to 2 World Championships, won gold at the Pacific Games, I have also won 4 gold and 2 silver international medals, I have been to 38 different countries to train and compete. I have trained with National team members from Spain, Korea, Belgium, Serbia, Finland, Germany, and Iran just to name a few.”

Her international experience has allowed her to “normalise high level competition and training situations so that I do not feel nervous or feel anxiety from the perceived pressure to perform.”

However, Ashgabat 2017 will be the first multi-sport event Waterford has attended, and the Olympic Games-like atmosphere and athlete’s village will be a unique situation all the athletes will have to adapt to.

“Ashgabat will offer our athletes to be in an environment with athletes from other sports, and to experience a village. Both are held in brand new state of the art facilities,” CEO Chisholm said of the new experience.

“The major goals for the team in Ashgabat will be to experience a multi-sport environment, to gain good quality exposure at international competition, and to build on the lessons that were learnt at the World Championships.”

Joining Waterford and Hock in Turkmenistan will be 18-year-olds Will Afonczenko and Deanna Kyriazopoulos.

Afonczenko is following in the footsteps of his brother Tom, who was a shadow team member for the London 2012 Olympic Games, 2015 Pacific Games gold medallist and is currently ranked 13th in the World.

Will Afonczenko, who won his first international gold medal at the New Zealand Open in Auckland this year, is preparing himself for the high calibre of athletes he is set to face at the AIMAG.

“Standard wise, being in the Asian region, this competition will definitely be very tough with many decorated countries expected to show up,” the Melbournian said.

“In terms of the actual competition, I believe this will be much bigger than regular G ranked Taekwondo events.

“Initially, I wasn't too sure where the competition was or how big it was going to be, however after doing some research I realised I'm in for a great time along with the rest of the Australian Team.”

Deanna Kyriazopoulos is hitting the mat in Ashgabat fresh off a bronze medal-performance at the Asian Presidents Cup G2 event in Uzbekistan earlier this month.

After making her international debut in 2014 and winning silver at the 2015 Pacific Games the Sydney sider, who trains under Olympic coach Ali Khalil, won her first gold medal at the 2016 Oceania Championships.

“I think this experience will be one of my toughest, next to my World Championship experience in Russia in 2015,” Kyriazopoulos said.

“The nations attending this event have some extremely experienced and talented athletes competing, however, I am excited to compete in this event and do my absolute best.

“There is so much to learn and experience from different athletes around the world, and I will treat this event the same way I have treated my other competitions. Each athlete constantly grows and learns, and although I am little, I am fierce and ready to fight.”

18 athletes from the sports of Taekwondo, Wrestling and Weightlifting will represent Australia at Ashgabat 2017 from September 17-27.

Australia’s Taekwondo Team for Ashgabat 2017:
Will Afonczenko M-63kg
Ruth Hock F-67kg
Deanna Kyriazopoulos F-46kg
Adam Meyers M-87kg
Cameron Taylor M-80kg
Keshena Waterford F-49kg

Georgia Thompson
olympics.com.au

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