By Mark Allan Cervantes
(July 22, 2021) – The way Kurt Barbosa qualified for the Tokyo Olympics was so intense and dramatic, one would think it was pulled straight out of a movie.
In the biggest match of his young taekwondo career, and with a coveted spot in the Summer Games up for grabs, the native of Bangued, Abra put on a performance that will be remembered for a long time.
Down by five points in the last 10 seconds against taller hometown bet, Zaid Al-Halawani of Jordan, Barbosa unleashed three perfectly timed body shots, with the final one right at the very last second, to score a comeback win for the ages.
He won by a solitary point, 50-49, in the 58-kg semifinals of the 2021 Asian Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament. It doesn’t get closer than that.
Barbosa was wrapped in sheer joy as he celebrated his nail-biting victory. He quickly removed his helmet and ran around like a kid in a newly opened theme park. Al-Halawani, meanwhile, bowed his head in dejection, perhaps still suspended in disbelief that he got upset by an unknown Filipino.
“Nakita ko kasi na pagod na ‘yung kalaban ko at may natitira pa namang oras. Nakita ko rin na hirap na siyang mag-defense. Nung nakita kong open ‘yung armor niya, sumipa lang ako,” said Barbosa on ABS-CBN News Channel.
The 22-year-old jin, who is now being referred to as “The Comeback Kid,” will be the lone representative of the Philippines in taekwondo in the Tokyo Olympics. A distinction that could be a source of both pride and pressure for Barbosa.
Barbosa first showcased his potential in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in 2018 after being named both Rookie of The Year and Most Valuable Player, leading the National University Bulldogs to the title.
His dominant showing in the UAAP led to a spot on the national team in 2019 and immediately made his presence felt by winning the gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games.
Barbosa’s quick ascent in taekwondo can be attributed to the way he prepares for every match. He is cerebral in his approach and executes with a calculated style.
“Taekwondo is parang chess talaga. Kailangan marami kang bala at strategy,” said Barbosa in an interview with One News.
For Caloy Padilla, Barbosa’s longtime coach, the young jin’s attitude and mindset make life easier for him and other mentors.
“Sobrang sipag sa ensayo. Nagre-research, may pakialam sa sarili at gusto niya talagang aralin ‘yung kalaban para ma-strategize na namin,” beamed Padilla.
Although the competition will be much fiercer in the Tokyo Olympics, being the student of the game that he is, expect Barbosa to be fully prepared, as he tries to secure a podium finish for the Philippines.
Barbosa’s story started with a moment that seemed straight out of a movie, but it might be just a prelude to a much more dramatic climax—with him clinching the country’s first gold medal. (PM)