Lebanese Taekwondo Players Talk Ahead of Universiade Qualifications

20 Mar. 2017 – Taekwondo is a big and growing sport in Lebanon. But for most of our local athletes, it is extremely challenging to juggle between university and training. With the Universiade being just around the corner, the hours spent in the gym have considerably increased and trainings have kicked up a notch.

Here’s what the crème de la crème of Lebanese taekwondo have said just before their qualifications. They were asked a few questions about their training, and their expectations right before one of the most important competitions for them.
Beginning with the women, here’s what Pia Bitar, Christina Jane Tanios, Sarah Lynn Tanios and Anna-Maria Khawand had to say.

  • Pia Bitar: (Antonine Baabda, -49) She has previously participated in the Gwangju Universiade in 2015. Unfortunately for her, an injury had prevented her from competing.  Pia said: “We are capable of achieving great results because we have a really strong team. But I hope this time around, I will be fit to play as I also hope for circumstances to play more in our favor.” Pia added: “Maybe what I have more is my dedication and my dream. Taekwondo is a part of my life and I have been training for as long as I can remember in order to be known as a good player.”


  • Christina Jane Tanios: (LAU Byblos, -57) Christina is participating in the Universiade for the first time and she is training 4 to 5 days a week. She thinks she is ready to compete in the qualifications and she has really high hopes of qualifying. As for the Universiade, Christina admitted that she was hoping for the best. Despite this being her first participation at the Universiade, Christina has a lot of experience in major competitions. However, she said that she was really excited for this event and she truly believes that it will teach her a lot and enlarge her experience. She added, “My teammates are my number one motivation. They always have my back and push me to my very best. Besides, I was a former gymnast and free-runner so this definitely gives me an edge physically.”


  • Sarah Lynn Tanios: (LAU Byblos, -62) Winner of West Asian Taekwondo Championship just a few years back, Sarah is working her fingers to the bone for this championship. She said, “Whenever a competition is around the corner, practices become more regular. We train everyday except on Sunday all in the purpose of preparing us both physically and mentally.” Back in 2015, Sarah qualified for the Gwangju games but without having to play any fights at all since her opponent withdrew. “Last year, I didn’t get to play in the qualifications, I hope this year I will have an opponent to face. In addition, when I reached the Universiade in 2015, I tore my hamstring 5 days before the competition, but it didn’t stop me back then and nothing is gonna stop me now. This year, I am conditioning my body beforehand so I hope I can shine and make my country, team, and family proud.”


  • Anna-Maria Khawand: (NDU, -67) It’s the second participation for Anna-Maria at the Universiade. Gwangju 2015 was her first international participation so this time around, she is expecting better results. When talking about her training she said: “Being a senior student, I’m finding some difficulties but in general I am training taekwondo 3 days a week at NDU. On Saturdays we practice as national team at Mont La Salle – Ain Saadeh and of course, I do cardio and stretching on a daily basis.”


As for the men, Georges Nakhle, Eric Melki, Pavel Haddad, Rami Saleh, René Abou Halka, Leonardo Chaiban, Tarek Moussally, Jad Maalouf and Rabih Daccache are competing for a spot at this major event.

  • Georges Nakhle: (USJ, -54) Georges who has been dominating the local scene lately said: “This qualification is like any other championship so I am taking it really seriously. If I manage to qualify to the Universiade, I’m expecting it to be a great experience and I will try my best to medal there. An experience like this will surely affect my performance as it will give me a chance to play with top notch players from around the world. It will also boost my confidence for other local and international competitions.”


  • Eric Melki: (USJ, -58)A prominent name in Lebanese taekwondo, Eric Melki, said he was training hard with his teammates and coaches for the qualifications. He trains for 2 hours a day and runs in order to stay at his peak. This is not his first major event, and Melki admits that he has been waiting for this championship for a while now. His goal is of course a medal. Eric had previously participated in several international competitions, most notably Nanjing Youth Olympics. However, all his competitions were as a junior athlete and this is his first year as a senior. “I’m going to acquire experience but my target is also to grab a medal.”


  • Pavel Haddad: (NDU, -63) Winner of his weight category at the Ambassador’s cup, Pavel Haddad said, “I’m preparing as I would prepare for any other championship with all my teammates and masters. It won’t be an easy task to qualify, but if I manage to do so, I expect the Universiade to be a great experience and hopefully I can achieve good results. This won’t be my 1st high level or international competition so I think I’ll be able to perform well with nothing affecting my performance neither mentally nor physically.


  • Rami Saleh: (USEK, -63) The competition is at its peak between Rami and fellow teammate Pavel. Speaking about his preparations Rami said: “I’m training hard and learning from my mistakes in order to improve.” Rami emphasized the difference between athletes in Lebanon and abroad underlining the importance of training twice as hard in order to make up for that difference. Saleh added: “This weight category is one of the toughest since it includes the largest number of participants, so whoever qualifies will have already played several fights, thus being better prepared. In fact, in order for anyone to get on a podium abroad, he will have to win two to three fights at least. This weight category prepares us well for this kind of challenge.”


  • René Abou Halka: (USJ, -68) René Abou Halka, a very talented athlete to say the least, shared with us his thoughts. As an answer to our questions he revealed: “I’m training hard for this competition and I spend a lot of time and energy to be at my highest level. I think I’m ready to compete in the qualifications, and even grab the first medal for Lebanon in the Universiade.” He also added, “I have played a lot of international tournaments but I’ve never participated in the Universiade since it’s only my second year at the university. Qualifying for this championship will boost my motivation and my excitement for training. What enhances my chances of qualifying is the quality training I get with my coaches and my teammates along with the love I have for this game in which I’ve been participating for 15 years.”


  • Leonardo Chaiban: (LAU Byblos, -73) Leonardo, who is no stranger to the international scene, has a big chance of winning since he has already won the Ambassador’s Cup in this weight category.  As for abroad,  this will be Leonardo’s second Universiade after Gwangju 2015. Last time around, he lost in the second round to one of the medalists, and he lost by just a single point. This time he says he is hoping for a better result and he wants to hopefully go further. Leonardo said: “My training routine consists of a daily taekwondo and physical training along with recovery sessions. Hopefully I’ll be ready and in good shape. Having had an international experience for the last 7 years I guess gives me an edge against my local competitors. But at the Universiade, all athletes have a lot of experience and everyone will be ready, so what makes you better is the the fact that you want it more than others.”


  • Tarek Moussally: (NDU, -80) Current title holder of the national championship, Tarek Moussally said: “Preparations are always ongoing, our daily trainings aim to put us in our physical and mental peak ahead of competition. I have positive expectations for both the qualifications and the Universiade; we’re putting in a lot more effort than previous years. Besides, this is not my first time participating, and since the last Universiade, (Guangju 2015) both me and my team have grown in experience and physical readiness. We have a vision and mental toughness along with a burning desire to achieve. This pushes us to aim for a higher standard of results.”


  • Jad Maalouf:  (AUB, -87) Ambassador’s Cup winner of his weight category, Jad Maalouf said that the preparations were on a roll and he was mainly focusing on the physical aspect of his training. He has the biggest chances of winning these qualifications since he has already won the Ambassador’s Cup this year. He admits that winning the Universiade is a bit far-fetched of a dream but it will undoubtedly be a great experience. However, Jad explained, “We don’t want to just take part in the Universiade, we want to prove ourselves and raise the Lebanese flag high.”


  • Rabih Daccache: (UL, +87) Rabih, runner up in his weight category at the Ambassador’s Cup, declared, “I think that I’m ready to play in these qualifications since I am training everyday for the Universiade. There’s a difference of levels between players and I think that in Lebanon, this difference plays in my favor. I have high chances of winning this competition, thus qualifying and traveling with the Lebanese delegation.  I will do my best to raise the name of my country high, as I will be exerting huge efforts to make Lebanon proud.”


Best of luck to whoever qualifies and we wish everyone an injury free competition!


Article by: Ghina Chehwan