Everything you need to know about the 2019 World Taekwondo Championships

Why you should watch out for Jordan’s Olympic golden boy when the World Championships are held in Manchester from 15-19 May.

By Evelyn Watta

Taekwondo's top athletes will converge in Manchester, England, to compete for World Championship medals and crucial ranking points for Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification.

Around 1,000 competitors from over 150 countries, plus a refugee team under the World Taekwondo flag, will be competing in 16 categories over five days from 15-19 May.

Here’s what you need to know about the first Worlds in the U.K.,who to watch out for, and their expectations.

Olympic champions lead the charge

Double Olympic champion Jade Jones leads a host of gold medallists from Rio 2016.

History-makers Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan and Cheick Sallah Cisse of Cote d’Ivoire will also be looking to stamp their authority as they prepare for their Olympic title defense.

Here is a breakdown of some of the stars in action:

Ahmad Abughaush - the desert wolf from Jordan

The most famous Jordanian athlete has scaled up to the men's -74kg as he seeks his first World title.

That would make the Olympic gold medallist his country’s first ever World taekwondo champion.

After a troubled last season, marked by injuries, the 23-year-old has reigned supreme

Abughaush won the Furjah cup in the UAE and the President’s cup in Antalya.

The ‘Desert wolf’ feels he is in good shape and is keen to improve on the bronze he won in Muju, South Korea in 2017.

“I want to get a gold medal there. My goal is to achieve the gold as I have done in Rio [2016],” - Abughaush told the Olympic Channel after a training session in his hometown Amman.

“[In Jordan] we have around three or four bronze medals and a silver medallist [in Taekwondo]. So, we now need a gold medal.”

A win in Manchester will also move Abughaush a step closer to defending his Olympic title in Japan, where he will shift back to his usual -68kg.

“Everything I’m doing now is a step to the major one. If I get a gold medal i'll achieve 120 points and i'll be close to qualifying for Tokyo 2020 by December officially.”

Dae-hoon Lee eyes gold number four

Abughaush’s absence in the -68kg category in Manchester leaves stylish Dae-hoon Lee as the firm favourite for gold.

The South Korean has clinched three gold medals from five World Championships.

Lee has sights set on claiming Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020, and will be wary of the threat posed by fellow two-time Olympic medallist Alexey Denisenko.

The Russian lost to Abughaush at Rio 2016.

"This will be the most important competition before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020," Lee told reporters after a training session at the Jincheon National training center.

"There will be pressure on us to perform, but since everyone here has been working hard for this, we'll try to finish at the top of the standings again."

South Korea, the home of World Taekwondo, has dominated the championships previously, winning 108 gold medals. Second placed Iran have 14 world titles.

Dae-hoon Lee in action at Rio 2016.

Cisse plans to peak at Worlds

Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist Cheick Sallah Cisse, who is the top-ranked player in the -80kg class, will be chasing his maiden title in his third World Championships appearance.

The Ivorian’s objective is to peak in Manchester after podium finishes in his season-opening tournaments in Lommel, Belgium and Aagadir, Morocco.

"I have won everything currently in taekwondo but it's in the world championships where I still don’t have any medal." Cisse told the Olympic Channel in an interview before the Worlds.

"I lost in the round of 16 at the world champs in Russia, in the 2nd round in Korea two years ago. This year, I have prepared for it,"

Cisse will undoubtedly count on his endless attacks in a class that also has the defending champion Azerbaijan’s Milad Beigi Harchegani, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist.

There is also Russian star Maksim Khramtcov who has scaled up one class.

Khramtcov won the -74kg at the World Championships at Muju 2017.

Can Shuai Zhao defend his title?

Shuai Zhao, another Rio 2016 Olympic champion, is poised to defend his World title from two years ago.

But that's only if the Chinese fighter can get past 2015 World champion Jaouad Achab of Belgium, European champion Lovre Brecic of Croatia and the reigning Pan American champion spin kicker Carlos Navarro of Mexico in the -63kg.

The Olympics heavyweight stars

The +87kg players are the biggest of the Championship fighters, but it is hard to predict who will top this category.

There is no clear frontrunner here, as there has been no dominant athlete.

Rio Olympic champ Radik Isaev of Azerbaijan has not featured much in the taekwondo circuit but remains one of the men to beat.

There is also the imposing Abdoul Razak Issoufou of Niger, the silver medallist at Rio 2016. Issoufou is the defending champion.

But the real threat could come from the smallest man amongst the heavyweights, Korea's In Kyo-don, the -87kg gold medallist at the last Worlds.

Kyo-don is the top-world ranked player in the over 87kg class.

Golden girl Jade Jones

The double Olympic champion headlines the British squad of 15 in her quest for her first world title.

The winner of Britain’s first taekwondo Olympic medal, took bronze at the 2017 tournament held in Muju, South Korea.

Her last competitive action was at the Sofia Open, which she won.

Gold for the 'headhunter' in her adopted home city would be a good test to gauge her readiness for Tokyo.

“I always have peaked at the Olympics and I hope to do it again,” the top ranked athlete in the women's -57kg category told WalesOnline.

“Obviously there’s always the dream of winning three golds.” - Jade Jones

Walkden: A home favourite

Her teammate Bianca Walkden is seeking her third consecutive World Championship gold in a heavyweight category that’s full of strong fighters.

The Briton is one of the two favorites in the +73kg that also includes China’s Rio 2016 Olympic champion Shuyin Zheng.

Zheng beat Walkden in the Rio semi finals, but Walkden has dominated most of their recent encounters since.

Serbia expects

Another star-studded field is the -73kg, that could be hard to predict.

There is London 2012 gold medallist and reigning world champion Milica Mandic.

The queen of Serbian taekwondo has maintained her form since the gold from two years ago.

She won the Belgium Open and is now World number one.

'I've big goals and I am aware of the burden of expectations," Mandic told Mozzartsport.com.

"But I go [to Manchester] with the same desire, like it's the first time to fight at the World Championships."

Mandic faces South Korea's wunderkind Da-bin Lee, who is a two-time Asian Games champion, Nafia Kus of Turkey, the reigning Euro champ, and 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist Maria 'fist of fury' Espinoza, one of Mexico's two women to have won an Olympic gold.

Maria Espinoza of Mexico.

Dream match-up?

There is also the possibility of the dream match-up, pitting the World Champion Ruth Gbagbi and team GB's Lauren Williams.

Williams is a double world junior champ.

The 19-year-old clinched gold at the Grand Prix last year in Manchester.

After taking bronze at Rio 2016, Ivorian Gbagbi won the World title, and added two golds from the Grand Prix and Grand Slam in 2017.