The 2020 Olympics were the first one Kilsung ever attended, after all, he was only 16 years old. He was the most promising young athlete in the nation, and he was expected to win the gold medal easily at his pet event – taekwondo. It seemed to the country, to his coaches and all who had the good fortune to spectate his matches, that he possessed the rare talent of being able to knockout anyone on demand. It didn’t matter whether it was a roundhouse kick, or a finger jab; when Kilsung wanted his opponent down, there was nothing the opponent could do to stop him. “Blocking is just a formality for that monster,” his coach had once famously remarked.
Unsurprisingly, Kilsung entered the tournament a hot favourite to win, despite his relatively young age and lack of experience. Round after round, each country’s bests fell to youth. Some went down in a single blow, others managed to dodge around several punches but all were ultimately floored within a couple minutes. “Almost effortlessly,” announced the commentators, “Kilsung progresses to the finals to face Jeremy Flint of Western Samoa.”
Now that guy was an unknown as well. It was the first outing for him too, and in the pre-bout brief all Kilsung’s coach could say to his mentee was “watch out for this lad. He’s breezed through all the stages too.”
“I’ll sort him out, don’t wowwy,” came Kilsung’s reply as he stuffed the mouthguard in between his jaws. He did not really need that mouthguard, but he kept it on to prevent disqualification.
The two men faced each other on the met. “Chunbi” said the referee. Both sides bowed deeply, and then swiftly brought their fists up in a ready position, eyeing the opponent that stood before him. The bell rang out – the bout had begun. Red and Blue circled each other slowly on the mat like sharks, each one fully confident of himself, but hesitant to go closer.
Hesitant? Only for a brief moment for Kilsung, it seemed. He lunged forwards, throwing a front kick to Flint’s right hand side. Flint reacted quickly, blocking it with one hand. Too late, it was a fake. Kilsung’s other foot was already in midair, coming down in an arc aimed straight at his opponents head. But Flint’s head wasn’t there. It had moved, and almost as fast as Kilsung had struck, the return blow was coming from Flint.
In a split second Kilsung realised the danger he was in, and his hands moved to intercept the punch aimed at his chest. Their arms met in midair, and both parties were pulled into an interlocking embrace. Their foreheads almost touching, Flint suddenly broke into a knowing smile. Kilsung chuckled with recognition. “Never thought I’d meet someone with this ability too.” Said Kilsung under his breath. Flint said nothing, but continued smiling, while his arms sought to come to terms with the sensation of being blocked by something as strong as themselves for the first time in his life.
Both men moved together – one step forward, one step back – their arms still tightly grasped the other. Either one unable to break free. Suddenly, Kilsung’s leg shot out, a sly attempt at a leg hook that would ground Flint. But his opponent was prepared. There was a twist and a skip and a clap as their palms collided and then almost as suddenly, the two were apart again, facing each other with renewed vigor. Each had successfully pushed the other away. Each now eyed his opponent, spaced two meters apart from toe to toe.
There is an old Chinese proverb that goes “one mountain isn’t big enough for two tigers”. Maybe Flint was thinking about that when he lunged. Maybe that’s what went through Kilsung’s mind as he too charged forward with his fist. Maybe the proverb is true. Certainly there could only be one gold medalist in this sport, right?