Tokyo taekwondo tickets on offer in Sofia

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 18: Simone Alessio of Italy competes against Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan in the Final of the Mens -74kg during Day 3 of the World Taekwondo Championships at Manchester Arena on May 18, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 18: Simone Alessio of Italy competes against Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan in the Final of the Mens -74kg during Day 3 of the World Taekwondo Championships at Manchester Arena on May 18, 2019 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

A host of Europe’s taekwondo Olympic hopefuls – including Simone Alessio and Avishag Semberg – will compete in Bulgaria from 7-9 May trying to secure some of the sport’s final qualification places for Tokyo 2020 (in 2021).

Just weeks on from hosting the star-studded European Championships, the Grand Hotel Millennium in the heart of Sofia will again be the venue for the 2021 European Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament. Over 100 athletes are expected to take part, representing 39 countries and one six-person Refugee Team.

Following the official draw on 6 May, the first day of action (7 May) at the qualifiers will feature the women’s -49kg and -67kg weight class athletes in action. The men’s -58kg and -80kg contenders will also compete for gold on the first day. The next day (8 May) will see the women’s -57kg and +67kg classes and the men’s -68kg and +80kg categories compete as the field of contenders take aim at the all-important Olympic places on offer.

Among the competitors in Sofia is Sweden’s 18-year-old Danish-born Frederik Emil Olsen in the -58kg category. Also hoping for the best will be up-and-coming 21-year-old Simone Alessio of Italy who won gold in the -74kg (lightweight) division at the 2019 World Taekwondo Championships in Manchester and a bronze at last month’s European championships.

In the women’s -67kg category, Elin Johansson of Sweden – a veteran of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, as well as a bronze winner at the 2015 European Games in Baku – will feature. Israel’s 19-year-old sensation Avishag Semberg, who took gold in the women's -49kg category in the 2020 European Taekwondo Championships in Sarajevo, will also be one to watch in Bulgaria.

A Paralympic qualifying tournament will follow the Olympic qualifiers on 9 May.

Strict COVID-19 protocols will be followed in Sofia, an event that was already postponed twice due to the complications caused by the global pandemic.

Countries were eligible to enter two male and two female divisions at the competition in Sofia with one athlete competing in each division. The winner and second-place finishers for each division qualify directly for this summer’s Games.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - OCTOBER 06: Flag bearer of Israel Abishag Semberg walks the stage during the opening ceremony of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games at Obelisco monument on October 06, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - OCTOBER 06: Flag bearer of Israel Abishag Semberg walks the stage during the opening ceremony of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games at Obelisco monument on October 06, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
2018 Getty Images

This European qualification tournament is the penultimate qualifying event for taekwondo at the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) Olympic Games. The Asian tournament – the final of the continental qualifiers – is scheduled for 20-22 May in Amman, Jordan.

Last month in Sofia (8-11 April) Welsh-born Jade Jones, 28, won her third European crown (in the -57 weight category) by defeating Turkey's Hatice Kubra IIgum by a comprehensive 20-5. In Tokyo, Jones aims to become the first Team GB woman to win three individual golds at three separate Games (she topped the -57kg ranks at both London 2012 and again in Rio in 2016).

The Olympic Taekwondo Tournament at Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) will consist of four weight classes each (eight overall) for men’s and women’s competition.

Taekwondo – a combat sport with its roots on the Korean Peninsula – entered the Olympic programme as an exhibition sport at the 1988 Games in Seoul before reappearing as an exhibition sport at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Taekwondo joined as a full medal sport in Sydney in 2000 and has maintained that status ever since (and will continue at least through Paris 2024).