For Kurt Bryan Barbosa, the turning point of his taekwondo career, the singular moment that made him decide to take the sport seriously, happened when he was playing online games instead of training.
“I was a hyperactive kid and also stubborn,” Barbosa said in Filipino. “I was 13 then, supposedly I was training for Batang Pinoy but I didn’t feel like it.”
His mother surprised him at an Internet store in his hometown, Bangued, Abra, and then gave him a good beating.
“From then on, I thought to myself that I would do serious taekwondo,” he said.
He then won a bronze at Batang Pinoy that year, which made him realize he could excel nationally. Bronze held up many opportunities for him as he landed scholarships in Manila and took the UAAP by storm by becoming their Rookie-MVP in 2018.
He continued his steady rise, scoring victories in international competitions, including the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila. But none of those victories compared to the drama for which he landed a ticket to the Tokyo Games, coming from behind to beat a local bet during an Olympic qualifier recently in Jordan.
“I’m very excited. I feel like I’m ready to compete in the Olympics even today,” Barbosa said on his last day of quarantine after returning home.
While hiding in the F1 hotel in Taguig, Barbosa said he trained twice a day by kicking pads and increasing his resistance on an air bike.
After all, you have a lot to prepare for. The best result for the country in the Olympic taekwondo competitions was in Athens in 2004, when Toni Rivero managed to reach the semifinals.
Barbosa, however, does not want to burden himself more than compete at his best.
“I don’t want to be pressured into thinking about anything, but I just want to enjoy the full Olympic experience,” he added.
His toughest opponents, according to Barbosa, are jins of the traditional Korean and Italian heavyweights. “I saw how they fight and I’m sure they also saw me fight,” he added.
They had to.
After all, Barbosa was far behind and left for dead against Jordan’s Zaid Al-Hawani in the -58 kilogram semi-final. But Barbosa rallied dramatically to snatch victory from the Jordanian.
“When I was starting out, they taught me to bet on speed, because I think speed kills,” said Barbosa, who will turn 22 on June 8.
Last year, he won the national kick kick challenge, a tournament tailor-made for the pandemic by the Philippine Taekwondo Association, after throwing 98 kicks in 60 seconds.
“But now I focus more on defense,” he revealed. “I came to know when to move fast and when to move slowly but surely.”
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