Taiwan’s first gold medalist Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎) is confident he will retain his taekwondo title in Beijing, while girlfriend Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) is hoping for success in the women’s competition.
Chu won the adoration of his fellow Taiwanese when he brought home the nation’s first Olympic gold from the 2004 Athens Games at the age of 22.
Teammate Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) also won gold in the women’s flyweight division.
Many Taiwanese wept the night the nation’s Olympic flag was hoisted and its Olympic song played in Greece, and their triumph has sparked a boom in the Korean martial art here.
For the Beijing Games, Chu is under pressure to repeat his feat, while Yang is now the favorite for the women’s taekwondo as Chen has since retired from competition.
“There’s definitely pressure as I have become a defender from a challenger, but I am confident,” Chu said at the National Sports Training Center in Zuoying (左營), Kaohsiung City.
“I hope to push myself to my best form in the final moments before the Olympics while keeping my calm,” said Chu, who is fighting in the men’s under-58kg division.
Taiwan’s taekwondo team bagged two golds and one silver in Athens while the rest of the nation’s athletes managed one silver and one bronze.
With all eyes on him, defending champion Chu has incorporated the Chinese martial art of taichi into his practice to battle the pressure, coach Chang Jung-san (張榮三) said.
“An athlete has to climb up and seek a breakthrough to win and I think taichi helps stabilize Chu to bring him to the next level,” Chang said.
Taichi, which is meant to harmonize body and soul with slow and flexible movements, is popular in Taiwan particularly among elderly people.
“Chu is in a very good shape and his techniques are more mature. We are optimistic that he can win a second gold medal as long as he copes with the pressure well and doesn’t make any mistakes,” Chang said.
The champion, nevertheless, faces strong competition from German, Iranian and Spanish fighters in bouts set for Aug. 20, Chang said.
Yang, champion in the women’s under-49kg in the Asian taekwondo tournament in April, will make her Olympic debut in Beijing.
“Chu is a seasoned player so he shares his experiences with me and we also encourage each other,” Yang, 22, said.
Yang says her main rival is China’s Wu Jingyu (吳靜鈺), who defeated her in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha and last year’s Asian tournament before losing to her in April.
“Wu is playing on home turf so she has certain advantages but I can hold my own if I keep my composure. I believe everyone in our team has a chance to win gold medals,” she said.
Taiwan’s four taekwondo fighters are planning a short stay at the mountainside Foguangshan Buddhist monastery in southern Kaohsiung to clear their minds and relax their bodies before heading to Beijing.
“Although we only train five hours daily, our minds are occupied with the Games all the time. I hope the stay in Foguangshan will stabilize our spirits and bodies to help us perform well,” Yang said.