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All over in six minutes. The brutal world of Taekwondo

The Olympic dream can be cruel. You might achieve it, but it might not be as you imagined.

With that in mind, you’ve got to feel for the Marton-Khalil family from the sport of taekwondo.

Between them, they have been to seven Olympic Games, and their total time on the mat in Tokyo has amounted to 12 minutes.

Safwan Khalil is the partner of former world champion Carmen Marton, and brother-in-law to Carmen’s brother Jack.

Already a veteran of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, Khalil came to Tokyo for “unfinished business”. In London he was beaten to a bronze medal by Russian Alexey Denisenko, but still fit and competitive at 35, Khalil figured this was his final chance for Olympic glory.

Safwan Khalil, right, saw this Games as a chance at redemption after narrowly missing out on bronze in Rio.(

Getty Images: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

)

He was fighting for two.

Partner Carmen thought Tokyo would be her fourth and final Games, having achieved the technical requirements for selection.

The selection panel instead opted for someone ranked 20 places lower than her but young enough to benefit from the experience.

Marton appealed through the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), winning two hearings but losing the crucial third.

It was a challenging time. 

She struggled with her personal situation but was also trying to remain upbeat for Khalil and her brother Jack, who was thrilled to have found the confidence to make his Olympic debut.

Earlier on Monday, Jack, in a red vest, stood opposite Egypt’s Seif Eissa, wearing blue, for the customary bow as a sign of respect to and for each other.

For the next six minutes — three rounds of two minutes each — they bounced on their toes, sizing each other up before launching a series of devastatingly quick kicks aimed at the other’s body and head.

And then it was done. 

Eissa was more successful at finding the electronic touch-pads in Marton’s vest, scoring an 11-1 win. 

And that was it. His Olympic Games was done.

Marton is now on his way home. He’ll be in good company though. Khalil is on the same plane after losing his bout to Thailand’s Ramnarong Sawekwiharee 23-7 on Saturday.

Jack Marton looks to one side
Jack Marton’s debut Olympic Games experience lasted all of six minutes.(

Getty images: Maja Hitij

)

Both of them are so devastated by their first-round losses, they have been unable to speak about their experiences publicly.

Posting on his Instagram account, Khalil said: “We all have our highs and lows, sometimes your lows happen at the highest level, on the big stage and for the world to see. Some moments you watch it all slip away from you and no matter how hard you try, it’s simply not your time. Those moments are the ones that test you above all else.”

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In the week before the Games, Carmen was the one being comforted. Now the roles have been reversed with a perspective only time can bring. 

“I feel for them, my heart breaks for them. Everyone at the top level of taekwondo knows that feeling and has been in that position,” Carmen said from Melbourne.

“I spoke to them and, yes, Saf is devastated that he started strongly but the fight slipped away. Jack was the opposite, upset that he started on the back foot but finished strong.

While many of us know what it takes to swim the length of a pool or to run 400 metres, and can therefore appreciate the remarkable feats of our swimmers and athletes, not many of us have the same understanding of the mental and physical exertion of a combat sport.

“I don’t think anyone can fully understand the battles just to get there … all the dangerous and painful high-impact, full-contact training we have to do, while still consistently performing internationally, dealing with high-level daily stress and political fluff,” Carmen said.

“What you see on the mats is not a reflection of the years of training, competitions, experience or fitness they have behind them.

“It is insurmountably tough to get the timing of the taper and mental focus to align to get the best out of yourself.

“That is why their achievements stand so strong regardless of the outcomes.

Carmen Marton holds her head
Carmen Marton had hoped to be alongside her partner and brother in Tokyo, but missed out.(

Getty images: Miguel Tovar/LatinContent

)

Back home, Carmen says they are celebrating Safwan being a three-time Olympian while brother Jack has sealed a family dream by becoming an Olympian himself.

“Saf’s outlook is he is still proud and gracious — he is still thinking about the bigger picture and wants to achieve so much more in life too. He loves taekwondo but he needs some time away,” she said.

“Jack is taking time to process it all and told me that he has a whole new level of respect for me doing three Olympics.”

On all the perimeter fencing around Olympic venues is the slogan “Tokyo 2020 United by Emotion”.

It is a slogan that has real meaning for taekwondo’s Khalil-Marton family.


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