Australia’s first taekwondo world champion, Carmen Marton, on her quest for gold in Rio. By Tracey Holmes.


Packing a punch: Carmen Marton, 29, taekwondo

I didn’t have much choice in taking up taekwondo. My father introduced us to the sport as soon as we were old enough. I was eight, my sister was 10 and my younger brother was three. He believed there was a lot of opportunity in the sport and he wanted us to do the same sport he did growing up. He was originally a basketball player in Poland’s college league and travelled around Europe, but taekwondo was his passion.

Taekwondo is a really tactical sport and I guess you could compare it to fencing, except we use our feet. It’s very dynamic and explosive. We do a lot of spinning kicks, a lot of head kicks. You try to score points without having them scored against you and the aim is to finish the three rounds with more points than your opponent. There is the possibility of being injured, or in extreme cases knocked out, but it rarely happens these days. 

It’s definitely been a tough road. Becoming Australia’s first taekwondo world champion has come with many challenges but it’s been my dream from as far back as I can remember. As soon as I started all I wanted to do was become a world champion. It took nearly 20 years to achieve that goal though.

The world championships are very different from the Olympic Games. At the world championships you have about 130 countries competing and the divisions are really large. You can have up to six or seven fights in the one day, whereas at the Olympics you have a maximum of four. So the world champs are more competitive but the Olympics comes with its own set of challenges. I’m going through that gruelling qualification process now [for Rio 2016]. 

When I was 17 I missed out on selection for the Athens 2004 Olympics but it didn’t deter me. I qualified for Beijing 2008 and was able to make the quarter-finals. Four years later in London I made the semis, so now I’m really working towards coming away with the gold medal from Rio. 

My partner [Safwan Khalil] also represents Australia, so it’s a pretty competitive household. Even if we go to a Timezone or something we try to beat each other. We push each other a lot in training – always supporting and encouraging each other to get the most out of every session – but at home we do our best to not talk about taekwondo. 

I’ve had to deal with emotional extremes my whole life. Having my siblings in the sport, and now having my partner in the sport, sometimes means one of us is celebrating a win and the other is upset at getting beaten. We’re always on a different cycle. Sometimes one of us has a really good day and the other doesn’t. You really try to put your own emotions to the side and be supportive of the others around you. It’s very draining but we’ve been doing it now for 15 years so we know how to deal with each other and pick each other up.

You can’t make much money out of taekwondo but you can lose a lot of money. It’s not an expensive sport in terms of equipment or facilities – we just need our body. But for Australians it’s expensive because we need to travel to compete against the best in the world on the grand prix and international circuits.

I love the fact that taekwondo can be equally contested by anyone from any country. Some countries in Africa or the Middle East might not be very competitive in some sports but, in taekwondo, everybody can take part. It gives everyone the opportunity to win gold medals. We’re so fortunate to be able to come across so many different cultures when we compete. After football, I think taekwondo is the most diverse sport.

It’s common to continue to compete into your late 30s but as a female you have to think about your body and having a family and try to prioritise those things, too. Most females start to retire in their late 20s or 30s but males can keep going into their late 30s as long as their bodies are still in one piece. 

After my competitive career I really want to give back. I don’t think there are enough female coaches and mentors in our sport.

1 . This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Sydney Swans v Adelaide Crows

Saturday, 4.35pm (AEST), Sydney Cricket Ground

• NRL: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST), Central Coast Stadium, Gosford, NSW

• Swimming: FINA World Championships

Starts Sunday, 4.30pm (AEST), Kazan, Russia

• Golf: Women’s British Open final round

Sunday, Ailsa course, Turnberry, South Ayrshire, Scotland

• Cricket: Ashes 4th Test – England v Australia

Starts Thursday, 8pm (AEST), Trent Bridge, Nottingham

• Netball World Cup: Australia v Trinidad and Tobago 

Friday, 9.05pm (AEST), Allphones Arena, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 1, 2015 as "Packing a punch".

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Tracey Holmes is a journalist and presenter for ABC News.