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Rio to be a family affair for Taekwondo athletes

4 March 2016

TAEKWONDO: The world’s most prestigious sporting event will have a distinctly family feel for four Australian athletes who will compete in the taekwondo competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Sisters Carmen and Caroline Marton will be joined by Carmen’s partner Safwan Khalil and close friend Hayder Shkara, after they were selected to the Australian Olympic Team on Friday.

Long-time coach and Safwan’s brother Ali will also be there as he looks to guide the Team towards its first medal since Sydney 2000.

Carmen Marton, Khalil and Shkara all secured their Olympic berth, when they each won their divisions at the Oceania Qualification Tournament at the end of February. Caroline Marton’s years of preparation culminated in a spot on the Rio team when her division went uncontested at the qualifiers in Papua New Guinea.

Rio 2016 will be the third Olympics for 29-year-old Carmen Marton. She is looking forward to lining up alongside her family at the first Games to be held on South American soil, where she will compete in the -67kg division.

“I take great strength in having both my sister and Safwan in the team for Rio,” said Marton.

“Knowing that Caroline was so close for London and now this time she’s made it is incredibly motivating. We’re all really hungry and it’s a very positive team environment.”

Added Caroline: “You always dream about representing your country at the Olympics but you never think you’ll prepare alongside and then eventually get there alongside your family,” the 31-year-old,  who will contest the -57kg competition, said.

Carmen Marton came so close to winning a medal at the London 2012 Games and eventually went on to become Australia’s first World Champion in the sport in 2013. The 2016 Games will be the perfect chance for her realise her dream and jump onto the Olympic podium.

“I never forget walking off the mat in that bronze medal match in London and being devastated. It was a really defining point in my career.

“From then I made the decision in my heart to go for the gold medal in Rio which has been my focus and I’ve been working really hard to make that dream come true.”

Khalil, 29, gets his second shot at Olympic glory after competing alongside Marton in London. Like Carmen, he was a podium contender four years ago and just missed out on a bronze medal after going down in a close encounter in 2012.

“After London we knew that we were going to aim for one more big event which was to be Rio,” said the -58kg fighter. “I was making sure I was really focused heading into the Oceania qualifiers and once that was over I didn’t realise how stressful of a process that actually was.

“Carmen and myself got so close to an Olympic medal in London and I thought, especially for myself, I wasn’t mentally and emotionally ready. I don’t think that I was as prepared as I could have been and I know that now if I don’t take any shortcuts heading into Rio that I’m definitely a shot at a medal.”

With a Games under his belt Khalil feels that his London experience will serve him well in August.

“As it was Carmen’s second Olympics in London she tried to warn me but it is something you have to go through yourself.

“Now that I know what it’s like at an Olympics I know what I need to change for Rio for sure.”

For Carmen’s older sister Caroline, 31, it was a tale of so close yet so far of realising her Olympic dream in 2012 and ever since she’s been dedicated to getting her shot on the Olympic stage.

“Qualifying was an unbelievable experience and was the culmination of four very hard years of preparation,” she said.

"It was also indescribable because of the way I lost last qualifiers where I was disqualified with only seconds to go while I was nine points in the lead in 2012 and this time the division I was in was uncontested. It was a little bit bizarre but now my focus is on representing my country the best that I can.”

Such is the closeness of the team, Caroline knew her job at the qualification tournament wasn’t done despite her having already secured an Olympic berth.

“I told the team that I was not going to relax until everyone was over the line. I was there the next day warming up Carmen and seeing if the team needed anything.”

The Olympic Games will also be a new experience for Hayder Shkara who will represent Australia in the -80kg division.

Having been one bout away from making the London 2012 Games, the 25-year-old Sydney-sider headed to London as a training partner for the team. It was that experience that gave home the motivation to continue towards his Olympic dream.

“I was shell shocked for quite some time after the unexpected loss to New Zealand’s Vaughn Scott and missing out on competing in London,” he said.

“I was lucky enough though to go to the London Olympics as a training partner for Saf.

“The experience was amazing and inspired me to try for one more Olympic cycle.”

Four years on and it was Scott who again stood in the way of Shkara making his debut Olympic appearance.

“I fought Vaughn three times in 2014-15 and I knew losing was not an option as it would mean selectors would doubt I could beat him in the qualifiers. I beat him all three times.

“Finally in the lead up to the qualifications, all I could think about was Vaughn. How he fights, what I would do to him. Beating him lifted a huge burden off my shoulders that had been sitting there for four and a half years.”

With qualification complete Shkara’s focus is now on performing on the sport’s greatest stage. 

“I’m excited to work with my coaches to see how I can achieve my optimum performance at Rio.

“One thing that I will be focusing in is mentally being able to zone in and maintain that focus for the duration of every fight. We will have some training camps at the AIS and abroad and a few comps to sharpen up before the big day.”

The Rio 2016 taekwondo competition will take place in Carioca 3 at Olympic Park from 17-20 August (days 12-15).

The Marton sisters become the third set of siblings selected thus far for the Rio 2016 Team, after Chloe and Max Esposito (modern pentathlon) and Jared and Rachel Tallent (athletics). 

Matt Bartolo

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