Although still far from the public eye like the big flashy sports such as football, baseball, or tennis, this Korean martial art is gaining a lot of traction in Atlántico. As more and more people get acquainted with the discipline and as we begin to acquire titles both locally and nationally, Taekwondo is becoming one of the strongest cards in the department’s race for medals.
On May 6th, at the National Taekwondo Tournament, Atlántico’s Selection won the Grand Prix Team title. In this competition held in Medellin, the department’s youth squad also got three gold medals, three silvers, and one bronze.
Colombians have been practicing martial arts for decades, but it wasn’t until Costeño Oscar Muñoz won the bronze medal in Taekwondo at the Olympic Games in London, 2012 that the sport really came into the foreground. This achievement gave Taekwondo the publicity and the popularity that it had lacked for years. Oscar and the Federation were all over newspapers, TV stations and magazines, a publicity campaign which won the hearts of the kids who needed the motivation to practice and the politicians who would need to financially support it.
At the moment, the local Taekwondo league is working with their black belt selection, in which there are four athletes sponsored by Indeportes, Atlantico’s state-run sports institution. In the Junior Team, Indeportes is supporting two other fighters. They’ve been receiving financial assistance from Atlántico since winning medals at the National. Overcoming that barrier gave them the right to belong to the program “Deportistas Apoyados”.
“After Oscar’s medal we had a tremendous growth in the socialization of this sport in the Department and our number of black belts increased a lot in just a few years. We still have some expansion work to do in the small towns, but we are on the right track,” Atlántico’s Coach, Carlos Contreras said.
The league is also working with the “Supérate” plan, which is a project that seeks to combine the practice of martial arts with regular attendance in high school. The strategy is to train a team formed of only students in their final levels of secondary so that they don’t drop-out from school in these critical years. In 2015, the “Supérate” squad won one silver and one bronze in the youth nationals. “We hope that this year, with the experience of past tournaments, we can get more than two gold medals,” Contreras said.
All this growth in medals has been possible also due to the strengthening of the structure. Nowadays Barranquilla has 19 private Taekwondo clubs, and some of them have even expanded to Soledad and Malambo. The best representatives of this discipline come from the clubs, and those that excel there are the ones we pick to practice here in the League with the Atlantico selection.
Speaking of fighters, the Colombian National team has already preselected two from Barranquilla. Abel Verdugo and Marelis Vuelvas, both with silver wins in last year’s Nationals, have very high chances to wear the black belt with our country’s uniform in the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games. Coach Contreras hopes that in 2018, the city can provide at least four athletes to the local squad. “Our expectations are pretty good. The government has announced more support for the players and more investment in the infrastructure. If that comes true, the youth fighters, Michelle Rivero, and Camila Padilla will probably join the tricolor.”
Unfortunately, it’s not all a bed of roses. The Taekwondo league needs urgent improvements in its training spaces. As you can see from the pictures below, the gym and the fight court itself are in poor condition. Elsewhere in the country, and across the sport internationally, fighters have the opportunity to practice with electronic hit detection systems, a common system for this sport. Unfortunately, here on the coast, fighters lack the necessary gear and when it comes time to compete, all of the competitors have an advantage.
“There are a lot of projects to relocate us, but still nothing concrete. We need a combat coliseum for all the martial art sports just like the one they built in Cartagena before their Central American and Caribbean Games,” Contreras stated. The past administration of Barranquilla had announced renovations not only for Romelio Martinez, where the Taekwondo League is currently functioning but also for Elias Chewing and the Covert Coliseum, however those updates haven’t yet materialized.
At the moment, the clubs are sustained by the very few resources they produce and by the support of the parents. It’s a sad state of affairs that the league is forced to train under these conditions. If the country expects to pull gold medals in the upcoming games, they’ll need to start investing in infrastructure for their athletes.