To reach the high-level is not something given to everybody. To stay on top is something which is even harder. To come back after a 3 years break is a matter of the unthinkable, of the unimaginable, but not of the impossible since Levent Tuncat achieved it.
The born artist, with a springing Taekwondo, brilliantly started his career. The German of Turkish descent was European champion at only 17, in 2005 (-54 kg). He won again the two following year and in 2008 (-58 kg). At the Beijing Games, bookmakers bet on him, making him their favourites. He was only 20 years old. And he was going to commit a great sin of his youth. He lost on the 1st round in sudden death against Afghan Nikpai, the coming bronze medallist.
4 years after, he missed the London Games, eliminated by Russian Denisenko on the qualification tournament. He was already injured, at the meniscus this time, and couldn’t completely defend his chances. Today, when he remembers this fight, he just says : « Denisenko was better than me ».
But the worst is to come. As soon as 2012, Levent Tuncat got one injury after the other, and some important ones : broken hand in the 2013 Worlds, broken feet, broken knee ligaments… The wisps seem to be lost for high-level sport. But our champion’s mental strength should not be underestimated, neither the power of love.
The job is going to be tough
He finds the energy to come back thanks to the support of his family, of his wife first of all. He draws his strength from his 2 sons, 2 years old and 6 month of age, his “gold medals”.
European vice-champion in 2014, 3rd of the European Games in 2015, Levent Tuncat considers the Rio’s Games as a gift from heaven.
He was not thinking about the Olympics anymore. He didn’t believe that he could qualify. And, 8 years after his 1st ones, he’s going to participate to his 2nd Olympic Games.
He will be 28 years old on July 29th. He will be the world n°5 on August 17th, when he is going to try to climb the Olympe. The job is going to be tough. He knows it. But nothing is impossible to a brave heart…
With Levent Tuncat, everything is conceivable…
What happened to you since 2012 ?
After the 2012 Olympic Games, I have a 3 years’ break in my career because of many injuries (broken hand in the 2013Worlds, broken feet, broken knee ligaments…). After one year, I was under the top 10 in the world ranking. It was a motivation for me to get back to it and fight for the Olympics. And, 8 years after the 1st time, I fight again at the Olympics.
“I think I can do something in Rio…”
What did give you the strength to come back ? Is it the Olympic dream ?
Not the Olympics but my family. It has always supported me. My wife, my parents, everybody believe in me and support me. My wife says all the time that I can do it, that it wasn’t a problem to have so many injuries, that I am one of the best in the world… This was my motivation. I want to give them something back. The Olympic Games represent the highest level.
How do you feel today ?
I feel very good. I think I can do something in Rio… Last year, I took the bronze at the European Games in Baku and, in 2014, I won the silver medal at the European championships and some Grand-Prix medals. It’s like the end of my career. I feel very good because I never thought, after a 3 years break because of my big injuries, that I would make it. Thanks to the support of my family, I did it. And also, thanks to the support of my company.
“There are many really good fighters”
How are you getting prepared for Rio ?
At the beginning of the year, we started by more physical and more condition training on mornings and afternoons. Since April, I work on my physical condition in the morning and on Taekwondo in the evening. It has changed a little bit.
We also made several training camps. At the end of March, we went to Korea for a 2 weeks camp. We trained 2 to 3 times a day. It depended on how our body felt… Then, mid April, we stayed 1 week in Turkey for another training camp. It was a very good preparation. Then, the European championship took place at the end of May (he lost at the 2nd round against British Pearce, 18-15).
What was your approach of these championships, 3 months ahead the Olympics ?
My all preparation is scheduled to go to the Olympics. Even if our program also included the Europeans, we nevertheless focus on the Games since the beginning. The idea is to be on top in Rio, not at the Europeans.
I am already 3 times European champion. I participated 7 times but only once at the Olympics. The Games occur every 4 years, not every year like the Europeans. Two years ago, I won the silver medal. In my category, there are many really good fighters like the Portugese guy (Rui Braganca, who won the title), the Belgian (Mohamed Ketbi), the Serbian (Milos) and the Spanish (Jesus Tortosa) ones… It was a way to test our body.
“I have 2 gold medals at home, my 2 sons”
How do you imagine Rio ?
You don’t have so many opportunities to fight in the Olympics because qualification is very hard. Get a medal is even harder. It makes your mind seeing things differently. If I am in a good day, if I feel good, I can do everything : take the gold medal. The athlete who will win would be the strongest minded one.
You participated in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. What are memories ?
I have very good memories. I was very young but I was presented as the favourite for Gold. Everybody thought so, myself too. But the Olympics, it’s very different from a World or an European championship. I cannot describe it. But I learnt there (he lost on the 1st round against Afghan Nikpai, at the sudden death point).
Will it help you for Rio ?
My Beijing experience will definitely help me for Rio. In 2008, I was the youngest athlete of the competition. In Rio, I would be the oldest athlete in my category (he laughs).
At the Games, you have the best 16 players of the world. It’s very, very hard. I try to do my best in my preparation. I hope I can show people very good fights in Rio. The most important is, I think, that I remain healthy because I have 2 gold medals at home, my 2 sons. If I can win an Olympic medal, it would be very nice. But you never know because it’s so hard to do so.
“I hope the best will win”
Do you think you can win ?
Everybody wants to win, so do I. If you asked me this question 8 years ago, I would have answered :”I will never lose but win all my fights”. Of course, you must believe in yourself. But, as the Olympics are a very special tournament, you must keep cool and stay focus. It should be a perfect day for you, your body, your spirit. So it’s not so easy. Because you know that, all around the world, Taekwondo players and not Taekwondo players will watch you.
What did you miss in Beijing ?
The experience, even if, before the 2008 Games, I was already 3 times European champion. So I was supposed to be experienced. I thought too much about the Gold medal. I thought too much about my final match and not about the 1st ones. I didn’t take it step by step.
This time, in Rio, I will think differently. First, I will make my 1st fight and, then, if I win, I will focus on my 2nd one. Each fight is a final.
Who is your main opponent ? Yourself ?
First, I think it’s myself. I know I can win against anybody but, on my 1st Olympic Games in Beijing, I was too much focus on myself. That’s why I lost. All my opponents are very, very good. For Rio, we have 2 world champions in our category, Ashourzadeh Allah from Iran and Kim Tae-Hun from Korea, and many European champions… Everybody won a medal in a big championship ! I think it’s going to be a very funny and very crazy day. I hope the best will win.
“I want to enjoy time with my children”
What would you like to do after your athlete’s career ?
I will go back to my company where I am a business industrial management assistant. I work at the purchase department. And I will spend time with my family, because I didn’t spend so much time with them for the last 6 years. The last two and a half ones were very difficult because I had 2 babies, one is 2 years old and the other one is 6 month of age. I haven’t seen them so much because, with the new system of ranking, we must go every week to another competition, another country.
So I want to enjoy time with them. I have been doing Taekwondo for almost 23 years. I will do something different afterwards. But, maybe after Rio, I would only make a short break and start again Taekwondo, I don’t know (he laughs).
What do you like besides Taekwondo ?
I don’t have so much time because I spend all of it playing with my sons. Since my son is born… I cannot describe my love. All I am interested in is spending some time with him. My hobbies are to play soccer with him, to go swimming with him, to spend all my free time for him. Before, I really love shopping, going to cinema… Now, My only focus is my sons.
“I don’t like the electronic system”
Are your sons scheduled to be Taekwondo fighters ?
The oldest one wanted to try. I said : “no, no, don’t !”. I think he will but I don’t want. It’s so much stress, so many competitions, maybe some injuries. It’s not easy to go to school, have an education and go to University while being a high-level athlete with the ranking system. It’s different now from what it was at my time.
I did graduate from school, I did finish my education but it was already very hard. I know it. Now, I have a safe job. Many people don’t. They only focus on Taekwondo. I know the way, I know how hard it is. That’s why I don’t want my son to do it.
You won your 1st medal in Senior at the German Open in 2005. You fought with old rules. What do you think of the electronic system ?
I don’t like it. The electronic system is good because it is fair. But it also changes our Taekwondo style. Everybody fights the same way nowadays. You cannot see if one athlete is faster or more explosive, if one’s technique or tactics is better.
Before the electronic system, everybody fought in a different style. If you were small or tall, there was no problem. Now, the tallest guys are more advantaged.
“Today, Taekwondo is boring”
What would you change ?
Maybe they must change small thing with the electronics, but not everything. Only one sensor under our feet and it would be better for people to watch Taekwondo. It means that “they” will change back to the Taekwondo old style. That’s what we love, that’s what people love and want to see.
In this way, you will have different fighting styles, like Aaron Cook and Servet Tazegul ones. Nowadays, it’s very hard to see differences. Taekwondo has become like fencing. When you watch fights, it’s really boring. When you look at Servet’s fights, it’s nice to see.
But, sometimes, he has an opponent who only makes good front legs and Servet loses. This is not okay ! Taekwondo is not only Yop Tchagui. Taekwondo is a lot more than that : who is the fastest ? Who can make the best techniques ?…