World taekwondo officials claim they still have the best fighters at the Olympic Games despite several world champions and world number ones missing.

Taekwondo has been rocked by scandals in recent times, not least British Taekwondo’s decision to pick world number 59 Lutalo Muhammad instead of the top ranked fighter in the world, Aaron Cook.

Another issue is that while there are 16 divisions (eight each for men and women) at the World Championships, there are only half that number at the Olympics and each country can select a maximum of two men and two women in total.

For a country like Iran, that means under-74kg and under-80kg world champions Alireza Nasr Azadani and Farzad Abdollahi have not been picked as under-87kg world champion Yousef Karami has come down a weight division to claim the under-80kg spot.

World’s silver-medallist Mohammad Bagheri has been selected at under-68kg, his regular category.

French over-73kg world champion Anne-Caroline Graffe is only fighting at over-67kg because her compatriot and world champion at under-73kg Gwladys Epangue is injured and cannot compete.

Either way, it wasn’t possible for both to take part.

But the World Taekwondo Federation (WTHF) insists they still have the cream of the crop.

“We have all the best athletes here,” insisted WTF Secretary General Jean-Marie Ayer.

“Sometimes we’ve had federations that had to make decisions because they were lucky enough to have several athletes at the top level (in the same category).

“We have the best athletes here, we could have had others but this is it. We have a selection of athletes and we consider them the best and we’re looking forward to having the best competition possible.”

As for the British overlooking the world number one Cook, WTF Technical Controller Seo Jeong-Kang said that was their right.

In the WTF’s official guide to the Olympics, Cook is highlighted as one of nine “athletes to watch” and is described as “the most outstanding taekwondo athlete for the host country’’.

Yet he isn’t taking part.

“The Olympics is the biggest event for taekwondo (fighters), that’s their dream and we can guarantee the best athletes from our member countries are participating in the Olympics,” said Seo.

“For the case of the UK, in our qualification system athletes participating in qualification events earn a place which is given to the member federation and not the athlete.

“It’s up to their selection committee to choose the athlete but they (the athletes) have to meet the requirement of the WTF.

“All athletes here are qualified athletes according to the requirements set by the WTF.”

While Cook, Azadani, Abdollahi and Epangue may not be in London, there is still plenty of talent on offer.

Reigning Olympic champion and double world champion Wu Jingyu of China will start with Guatemala’s Elizabeth Zamora in the first round of the women’s under-48kg division.

Hwang Kyung-Seon of South Korea, herself the Olympic champion and a two-time world champion, has drawn Ruth Gbagbi of Ivory Coast in the first round of the women’s under-67kg.

In the men’s over-80kg, reigning Olympic and world champion Cha Dong-Min of South Korea starts against Slovenia’s Ivan Trajkovic while three-time world champion Bahri Tanrikulu of Turkey begins against Alexandros Nikolaidis of Greece.

(This article was published on August 7, 2012)
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