2 Paris-bound Olympians get send-off at national taekwondo championships in Winnipeg

Two Canadian athletes set to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games got their send-off from fans in Winnipeg on Saturday.

Taekwondo Canada’s national junior and cadet championships, being held Saturday and Sunday at the RBC Convention Centre, marked the first time the championship has been held in Winnipeg in nearly two decades, as well as a farewell for two athletes of the sport who are headed to Paris later this month.

Winnipeg’s Skylar Park and Josipa Kafadar of Burnaby, B.C., were the first Canadian athletes to officially be granted their tickets to Paris when they were named to Canada’s Olympic taekwondo team in April.

Park is leading the small Canadian taekwondo team in what will be the 25-year-old’s second time at the Olympics, following her Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Although the pressure is on, Park says she learned a lot from her experience in Tokyo.

“I’ve learned how to handle those nerves, and handle that pressure, and so coming into this Games, I’m really coming in with a different perspective this time,” she told CBC Saturday.

“The goal for me is always a gold medal, and to stand on top of that podium.”

Park said it was special to meet so many young athletes in her hometown before she heads to Paris.

“To see them excited to meet us and just to wish us luck in Paris, and for me to be able to watch them compete is special for sure.”

Park was also happy to see the championships being held in Winnipeg, where she and Kafadar met fans and signed autographs.

‘Just so cool’

Kafadar, 23, has won four medals since 2023, including gold at the Luxembourg and British opens. She earned silver at the 2021 world juniors.

She’s never competed at the Olympics before, but says she has lots of competitive experience to draw on.

Her advice to young athletes is to believe in themselves, do their best and have fun.

“It seems simple, but once you embrace that, you’re honestly going to do the best that you can,” she told CBC.

A woman holds her arm around a young girl as they smile to a camera.
Josipa Kafadar, right, poses with a fan at the Winnipeg tournament on Saturday. The Olympian says her advice to young athletes is to believe in themselves, do their best and have fun. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Ana Jankovic, 12, who is competing in the tournament on Sunday, said it was inspiring to meet the Olympians before her competition.

“It was really nice to see them, and just to know that I’m meeting someone that’s … been representing Canada, it’s just so cool for me,” she said.

“It just makes me feel like I should push more.”

Ivanna Padua, 16, who is competing in the championship this weekend as part of Toronto’s Royal Taekwondo club, was also excited to meet the Olympians on Saturday.

“They’re great inspirations to all of us.”

More than 300 athletes competing

The more than 300 young athletes, ages 10 to 16, competing at the national championships this weekend are vying for a spot on Team Canada for future competitions, such as the world championships and the Pan American Games.

Taekwondo Manitoba president Kim Padua says having the tournament in Winnipeg means a lot, since there are many taekwondo schools in the province.

It’s a sport that helps build a young person’s self-esteem, she said.

“They become really good people [in] our community, and they share that with other kids,” she told CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai in a Saturday interview.

“It gives confidence. It takes a lot to step in a ring.”

The Paris Olympics open on July 26 and continue to Aug. 11.