Reviving taekwondo

Reviving taekwondo

LuciahPhahla

Maseru

Lesotho women’s taekwondo was once a dominant force.

In 1998, Lesotho’s women were crowned champions of Africa when they won the African Taekwondo Championships in Kenya.

Mary Lemphane, Likeleli Thamae, Lidia Thamae, Mojabeng Ralikonyana, Puleng Lala and Mosa Mputsoe all won gold in their respective weight divisions at the championships as Lesotho’s women stamped their continental supremacy in the sport.

The women continued their dominant form at the 1999 All Africa Games in South Africa claiming four gold medals. Their success boosted Lesotho’s haul to six gold medals, still the country’s best-ever haul at the African Games.

There were other notable successes as well.

In 2001, Masechocha Thamae won gold at the Military World Championship in the Netherlands while in 2003 Lineo Mochesane won the fin-weight crown at the All Africa Games.

The ascendant position of women’s taekwondo was confirmed in 2004 when Mochesane was Lesotho’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

However, since those heights, participation has plummeted and success has dwindled.

At last year’s All Africa Games all four of Lesotho women in the taekwondo tournament were knocked out in the first round and this year none will go to the Rio Olympics.

This week thepost caught up with Lesotho Taekwondo Association (LTA) secretary Teboho Masimong to dissect the worrying state of affairs.

Masimong became LTA secretary general in 2012 and he addressed the challenges the association is facing in women’s taekwondo. He also spoke about what LTA is doing to rekindle the spark the women’s game once had.

 

What challenges are you facing in women’s taekwondo today?

The challenges are the same in terms of popularity. Taekwondo had those heydays when it was popular and we are no longer having those days because of many things which include a lack of interest from people towards the sport.

People are no longer playing taekwondo because of a lack of finances and, as a result, the standard of taekwondo has declined in the country. Just look at when LDF (Lesotho Defence Force) was involved full force in the sport. At that time the association (LTA) even had money. At one point LTA was given a budget of M500 000 but now we get less than a quarter of a million.

What went wrong with women’s taekwondo in particular? It used to be of the most successful sporting codes in Lesotho?

 Yes, most of our Olympians here in Lesotho are women. Our strength has always been in women, hence why the elite of the elite are women. Likeleli Thamae, Lineo Mochesane these are Olympians.

There is the team of 1999 which won everything on offer at the All Africa Games that were held in South Africa. They won gold medals in every category we were represented. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it is. But, today women are scared to join taekwondo because it is a contact sport. Our Olympians were LDF members. Taekwondo was also financed by LDF soldiers and their withdrawal from the districts due to the 1998 disturbances also seriously affected the development of the sport.

Women’s taekwondo had successful athletes, such as Likeleli Thamae and others. What is LTA doing to tap into their knowledge in orderto grow the sport?

In 2013, we took Likeleli and put her in the Lesotho National Olympics Committee (LNOC) international coaching programme to make her an elite coach that is qualified on the international level. Today, she is one of the qualified coaches in the country.Last year, we took Lebohang Lenono into the same programme. The training takes a year and she will complete it in July. In terms of administration, we took Nthati Molapo last year to undergo training to become a trainer’s trainer. She is doing a programme at LNOC. These are women empowerment programmes. We thought it is important to involve women everywhere from coaching to administration.

What is LTA doing to improve women’s taekwondo on the ground? What are you doing to make sure there are opportunities for women that maybe interested in taekwondo?

Lucky enough coach (national coach Du-Khwi) Lee loves women because he says physically it takes time to teach and train women taekwondo but once they get it, they do not forget what they learnt and they excel. He is always scouting. Because we do not have championships that we can say assess people, we are still collecting our database of players, especially women. I think after the trainers training at the end of the month I would have a proper figure and their grades. The data gathering was ordered five years ago and it is on-going.

 

But, are you doing enough to popularise the sport and to attract support?

As the association, we have learnt and studied such things, and (we have) decided on what to do to bring back the spirit of taekwondo. Coincidentally, the former grand master was Joachim Lee and the current one is Du-Khwi Lee as well. Taekwondo is a contact sport. A lot of people are scared, especially women. Now that the soldiers went back to the barracks, the popularity has declined because they were helping with funds.We decided to put down the strategies to help the situation. We put systems in place. First, we started looking for a coach to help train the coaches and coach players just like (Joachim) Lee was doing but our main focus right now is to make sure that he (Du-Khwi Lee) imparts the skills to the local coaches.

 

Will we see women’s taekwondo qualify for Olympics in the near future?

If we can be successful in our strategies, we are confident that at the 2022 Olympics in Tokyo we will qualify not just with one athlete but with many. For now we are just waiting to see if Moloisane Marumo qualifies (for the men’s Rio 2016 tournament) through the universality place, we have realised that we can.

 

Are they any prospects in the women’s taekwondo at the moment?

We have an athlete that is very promising in Michelle Tau. Tau was at the All Africa Games last year. She is not a senior and she is so promising that we are confident that if she can hold on like this, she will be there in 2022 in Tokyo. Apart from Michelle, some the ladies we have are towards the end of their careers. Michelle is hardly 21; she still has time while others are nearing their 30s.

 

When will we see Lesotho dominant again on the international stage?

The coach now (Du-Khwi Lee)does not only want the fact we were once the African champions, his vision is taking us forward from where (Joachim) Lee left. He wants the players to be world champions. That’s his primary goal, hence why you see us training people. For example, Marumo was injured when he went to Morocco (African Taekwondo Union Olympic qualifying tournament in February) but he still managed to come with a bronze medal. We are confident that after setting up systems and giving (Du-Khwi) Lee what he needs we will be on the right path.

Where do you see women’s taekwondo in ten years?

Coach Lee is going to last for 10 years in Lesotho; we want an Olympic medal before he leaves. We want to put his skills to good use so we can be able to produce the best players ourselves. We want to be able to produce Olympians ourselves, we don’t want to participate in the Olympics but compete. In 10 years we will have gender equality within the LTA. Right now we have two women in the administration; we are working towards having more women within the association by sending them to trainings.

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