No rest as taekwondo stars hit the Rio mat

Published 5 August 2016 (AEDT)

Hayder Shkara in action ©

TAEKWONDO: There are no days off when you are preparing for the biggest event of your life.

Safwan Khalil and Hayder Shkara, half of Australia’s taekwondo team, touched down in Rio yesterday and shook off the cobwebs with a solid hit out on the mat just 16 hours later.

The duo don’t compete until Day 12 (August 17 – Khalil) and Day 14 (August 19 – Shkara) but have arrived and are ready to get to work.

“The first session was a big success,” Olympic debutant Shkara said.

“The joints were a bit tight so we had to do some stretching and loosen it all up. We threw out a few kicks to get the heart rate up and a sweat up and no one got hurt which is a positive.”

“It was a great session that we can build a platform on for the next two weeks before competition,” Khalil added.

The pair are training partners back in Sydney and believe that having each other as teammates in Rio is the best possible scenario.

“It’s pretty much the same training environment we have at home with me, Saf, Ali (coach) and Tom (training partner) all on the mat together which is great and a big benefit,” Shkara continued.

“It just feels like we are doing a session together back home in Liverpool (NSW).”

The team are training in Riocentro, not far from Barra Olympic Park, and believe the facilities are world class.

“We are now moving on the same mats that we will be competing on in Rio which we didn’t get in London,” Khalil said.

“Having the same coloured mats and our own intimate room for training is a big benefit.”

While training is pivotal the mental side of the sport is also crucial and Shkara has been leaning on both his teammate and coach Ali, who is Safwan’s brother, for some advice on how to approach taking on the world’s best in Rio.

“The boys were in London and have passed down their wisdom and knowledge onto the little rookie,” Shkara quipped.

“They’re giving me a few tips here and there which are all very useful.”

The duo will be a part of the Australian contingent who will march at the Opening Ceremony and having not been to a Games before Shkara couldn’t hide his excitement.

“Having not experienced it before I’m really excited to march with the Team,” he said.

“The boys did it in London and have said it is amazing so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Matt Bartolo

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