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Surprise world taekwondo champion eyes 2020 Olympics

By Alex Park
  • Published : Jun 29, 2017 - 09:38
  • Updated : Jun 29, 2017 - 11:24

MUJU -- By winning the world taekwondo title in the men's under-58kg here Wednesday, South Korea's Jeong Yun-jo surprised even himself.

The 21-year-old is so green that he entered the World Taekwondo Federation World Taekwondo Championships ranked 105th in the world. Yet here at T1 Arena in Muju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, he stunned the top-ranked Mexican Carlos Navarro in the semifinals and then beat No. 19 Mikhail Artamonov of Russia in the nail-biting final by a score of 24-23.

Jeong Yun-jo of South Korea celebrates his victory over Mikhail Artamonov of Russia in the final of the men's under-58kg division at the World Taekwondo Federation World Taekwondo Championships at Taekwondowon's T1 Arena in Muju, North Jeolla Province, on June 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I really don't have much experience internationally, and in the few that I went to last year, I didn't do so well," he said. "This week, I wanted to make sure I had no regrets. I don't really believe people when they say something feels like a dream, but this victory does feel like a dream."

With his first world title in the bag, Jeong has already turned his eyes toward the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo in three years' time.

"The Tokyo Olympics always seemed so far away," he said. "But now I think I've gotten close (to qualifying for it). I don't know what tournaments I'll be entering in the future, but I want to keep accumulating points and make it to the Tokyo Olympics."

Before the start of the competition, Jeong wasn't seen as among the medal contenders. He said even he didn't expect himself to do so well, but he was just glad his hard work paid dividends here.

"I train with such great teammates, and they've been helping me along the way and giving me great advice," Jeong said. "I've learned so much from them and I wanted to win one for them."

Jeong Yun-jo of South Korea holds up his gold medal from the men's under-58 kg division at the World Taekwondo Federation World Taekwondo Championships at Taekwondowon's T1 Arena in Muju, North Jeolla Province, on June 28, 2017. (Yonhap)

Jeong said his fighting style may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, nor is he particularly savvy or skilled. But one thing that he can do is battle hard.

"I wanted to be as feisty as I could be," Jeong said. "And I enjoyed competing at home. I really fed off the fans' energy."

Against Artamonov, Jeong led 17-7 midway through, and was up 22-17 with about 30 seconds remaining. The Russian got in a three-point kick to get to within two. Jeong pulled ahead with a two-point kick, but then conceded three straight points to Artamonov with "gam-jeoms," or deduction penalties.

Jeong barely avoided getting struck and giving up what could have been a decisive point.

"I've blown leads and lost in late moments quite often," Jeong said. "And I think I was able to learn from those mistakes, and I had confidence that I could hold on this time." (Yonhap)