For Kurt Bryan Barbosa, the turning point of his taekwondo career—the singular moment that made him decide to take the sport seriously—happened when he was playing online games instead of training.
“I was a hyperactive kid and also hard-headed,” said Barbosa in Filipino. “I was 13 then, I was supposedly training for Batang Pinoy but I didn’t feel like it.”
His mother caught him in an internet shop in their hometown Bangued, Abra, and gave him a good spanking afterward.
“From then on, I thought to myself I will would taekwondo seriously,” he said.
He went on to win a bronze in the Batang Pinoy that year, which made him realize he could stand out in the national level. The bronze opponened a lot of opportunities for him as he snagged scholarships in Manila and took the UAAP by storm by becoming its Rookie-MVP back 2018.
He continued his steady rise, pulling off victories in international competitions, including in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila. But none of those victories matched the drama by which he clinched a ticket to the Tokyo Games, coming from behind to beat a hometown bet during an Olympic qualifier recently in Jordan.
“I’m very psyched up. I feel that I’m ready to compete in the Olympics even today,” said Barbosa on his last day of quarantine after coming back home.
While holed up in F1 Hotel in Taguig, Barbosa said he trained twice a day kicking pads and building his stamina on an air-bike.
After all, he does have a lot to prepare for. The best finish for the country in Olympic taekwondo competitions was in Athens in 2004, when Toni Rivero managed to reach the semifinals.
Barbosa, however, doesn’t want to burden himself other than competing at his very best.
“I don’t want to be pressured into thinking anything but I want to just enjoy the whole Olympic experience,” he added.
His toughest opponents, according to Barbosa, are jins from traditional heavyweights Korea and Italy. “I saw how they fight and I’m sure they saw me fight, too,” he added.
They had to.
After all, Barbosa was trailing huge and given up for dead against Jordan’s Zaid Al-Hawani in the -58-kilogram semifinal. But Barbosa rallied dramatically to snatch the victory away from the Jordanian.
“When I was starting, I was taught to go for speed, because I believe speed kills,” said Barbosa, who is turning 22 on June 8.
Last year, he won the national speed-kicking challenge, a tournament tailor-made for the pandemic by the Philippine Taekwondo Association, after unleashing 98 kicks in 60 seconds.
“But now I focus on defense more,” he revealed. “I got to know when to move quickly and when to move slowly but surely.”
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