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April 5, 2020

Taekwondo fighter Haroon targeting Tokyo Games qualification

Sports

April 5, 2020

KARACHI: Haroon Khan is regarded as the most destructive Pakistan taekwondo fighter. And the Quetta-born fighter is capable of beating any player in the world on his day.

Haroon shot to fame when he performed exceptionally well in the World Championships in Manchester last year. He defeated the 2016 European gold medallist Mourad Laachraoui of Belgium in the round of 32. In the round of 64, Haroon defeated Ralph Honeine of Lebanon. However, he went down to Portugal’s Rui Braganca in the pre-quarter-final.

Haroon, who won gold in the 2019 Nepal South Asian Games in the -58kg, is eager to do something bigger for Pakistan. He wants to blast his way into the coming Olympics which have been delayed for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics,” Haroon told ‘The News’ in an interview from Quetta on Friday.

Haroon, who has lifted five successive national titles during the last five years, had knee surgery done a couple of months ago and has now resumed training.

“I have resumed training at Balochistan International Taekwondo Academy which is very close to my home,” Haroon said. “Because of the delay in Olympics I will get a chance now to regain my rhythm ahead of the Asian qualifiers,” he added.

“I believe in myself and will try my level best,” Haroon was quick to add.

The continent’s qualification tournament for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is now planned for Amman between June 5 and 7. Jordan’s capital stepped in to replace Wuxi, China, as host after the coronavirus originated in China, and had originally hoped to stage the event between April 10 and 12.

However, a senior official of Pakistan Taekwondo Federation (PTF) told this correspondent that the June dates for qualifiers are tentative.

“There are chances that the qualifiers will be further delayed as it will depend on the complications which have been created due to COVID-19 issue,” the official said.

Haroon, who had made his international debut in 2016 South Asian Games in India, said that success in the qualifying round will depend on how he regains rhythm and confidence following an injury.

“It depends on several things. How I regain my fitness, rhythm and confidence as it is always not so easy after injury but believe me I am determined and aim to do something stunning,” he said.

To a question, Haroon said that if he fails to qualify for Tokyo he will target the 2024 edition.

“But my main aim is to make it to the coming Olympics,” he was quick to add.

Haroon last year also featured in the Olympics test event in Tokyo, beating a Chinese fighter before losing to a Brazilian opponent in the second round.

However, the biggest challenge before Haroon is how to recover and regain top rhythm after a serious knee injury.

This correspondent has learnt if Haroon is unable to bring himself in top fitness then Pakistan will have to go for other options from the pool having Rabnawaz, Jibran, Shahzeb, Abbas and Taimoor. Only two male and two female fighters will be fielded in the qualifiers whose finalists will qualify for Olympics.

Haroon said that it was his passion which forced him to play taekwondo in 2013.

“I watched 2012 Olympics on YouTube and that motivated me to become a serious fighter and play for Pakistan,” he recalled.

When asked what problems he is facing as a fighter, Haroon said Pakistan Taekwondo Federation (PTF) is doing everything for him.

“I am grateful to the PTF President Col Wasim who is looking after me and my other teammates quite well. We have got a foreign coach and we constantly get international exposure and it’s a big thing for us,” Haroon said.

However, he stressed that only federation cannot do everything unless it is supported by the state.

“I request the state to also offer some support to other sports. Cricket is generating its own resources because it is a media game but we people need patronage of the state. We should be looked after properly like sportsmen,” Haroon said.

“When I meet world’s top fighters and especially those who have already qualified for Olympics they appreciate my calibre and it further encourages and motivates me,” he said.

The biggest issue Haroon is facing is that he has been kept by his department WAPDA in Grade-9 despite his marvellous calibre.

So far three shooters, an athlete and a horse-rider have qualified for Olympics. Judoka Shah Hussain has almost made it, while karateka Saadi Abbas is also trying to earn a seat. Boxers are yet to play in world qualifiers and wrestlers and weightlifters will also try their luck.