Nigeria’s pedigree in taekwondo received a boost at the weekend when Team Nigeria taekwondo captain to the 2011 All Africa Games, Uche Perez Chukwumerije clinched a gold medal at the 25th Belgian Opens.
The tournament, which is a Grade One World Taekwondo Federation (WTF)-sanctioned competition have athletes across the globe competing to amass points for their world rating.
Uche Perez is brother and mentor to triple Olympian, Chika Chukwumerije, whose engagement with the National Youth Team to the 2014 Junior World Championships in Chinese Taipei, caused Chika to miss the opportunity to gain vital ranking points alongside his older brother.
To win the gold, Uche defeated Rob Van Der Ploeg of Netherlands 2-1 in a terse opening bout, defeated Josip Mara of Croatia 14-2 in the semifinals, before completing the trilogy by flooring Hicham Massaoudi of Germany 4-1 in a very tactical final.
The current All Africa gold medalist, whose current World ranking as of February 2014, is 33, has earned a valuable 10 points that would impact positively on his world ranking which is due to be released this week.
He needs to be top 31 in the World to be eligible to compete at the Grand Prix Series, an exclusive Tournament series reserved for the World’s top 31 athletes in the eight weight categories. Top six qualifies automatically for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Speaking from the Topsporthall Vlaanderen Arena in Zuiderlaan, Gent, Belgium, the African middleweight champion spoke of his delight in winning his first competitive championship since his last outing at the 2013 World Taekwondo Championships in Mexico.
“I am happy that I won. This was my first competition since the World Championships last year, so I was a bit nervous. It is very important that I got some world ranking points. It is good for Nigeria and increases our chances for RIO 2016 Olympics. I hope I can repeat the same feat next weekend at the German Opens, next month at the African Senior Championships and at other tournaments scheduled for me this year.” Hopefully, I would earn enough points to break into the Top 30 ranking this year,” he said.
He noted the importance of going for international competitions to earn world ranking points,
“The Nigeria Taekwondo Federation (NTF) led by George Ashiru, has encouraged and mandated elite athletes to earn points, while the NTF focuses on developing young athletes. Hence, my focus in 2014 is on earning those important points and fine-tuning my competitive skills, so I can be in prime shape by 2015, which is a key year for Elite athletes,” he added.