It is the home stretch for three Ivorian taekwondo athletes. The Rio Summer Games are just weeks away, and Ivory Coast has won only one Olympic medal in its history. That one was 32 years ago. Track and field is still the top category for African Olympians, but Asian martial arts are gaining ground — especially in West Africa.
In all, African nations are sending more than 50 athletes to compete in taekwondo and judo this year. We are very confident. … Our athletes are mature. They are on a par with the best in the world." Ruth Gbagbi, competed in the 2012 Olympics, and has won gold in her category at the African Taekwondo Championships. She also won a gold medal at last year's African Games. Government support is coming along gradually, as they see results, they are starting to show interest in the sport. But the public, yes, we have a lot of fans who approach us, who encourage us. Ivorians are motivated. Taekwondo was first introduced in the Ivory Coast in the 1960s by a Korean master. This sport is a popular extracurricular activity in the Ivory schools. It's my parents who put me down for it. They saw that I didn't know how to defend myself and I was withdrawn because of that.
Part-time coach Ibrahima Soumahoro says the image of the sport has evolved over time. We used to think of martial arts practitioners as thugs who assault people. Now, taekwondo is an Olympic sport. It's taught in schools and universities. It is practiced by an elite. And the kids say, they will be watching the national team compete in Rio. They are examples to follow because they are champions, and they come from Ivory Coast so it encourages us to continue taekwondo.
Cheick Cissé is first in the Olympics, and Cissé won gold in his category at both the African Games last year and at the African championship earlier this year. We’ll strive our best to be on a medal, so the next generation can practice sport in good conditions in Africa. Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since 2000, but only three Africans have won medals in the event.