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Leslie Soltero of Baja California was one of two gold medal winners in the World Taekwondo Championships, held this week in Guadalajara. It gives Mexicans hope for their prospects in the Summer Olympics in 2024. WORLD TAEKWONDO

Mexican women athletes win gold at World Taekwondo Championships

The surprising wins are giving Mexicans hopes for their prospects in the 2024 Summer Olympics

Buoyed by thunderous crowds in Guadalajara, two Mexican women have won titles in the 2022 World Taekwondo Championships: Leslie Soltero in the 67-kilogram class and Daniela Souza at 49 kilograms.

It’s an eye-popping achievement considering Mexico came into this week’s competition with a grand total of four titles in 24 prior world championships dating back to 1973, and never two in one year. The success of the Mexicans bodes well for medal opportunities in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (Taekwondo has been an Olympic sport since 2000.) 

“I want to be an Olympic champion in Paris 2024. That is the next call,” Soltero, 21, said. “But before that, we have another world championship next year and we have the Pan Am Games [next October in Santiago, Chile]. But the biggest goal is the Olympics.”

This year’s world  championships were scheduled to be held in Wuxi, China, last year, but were moved to 2022 and relocated to Mexico (first to Cancún, then to Guadalajara) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regularly scheduled 2023 world championships will be next year in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Souza competed in the flyweight category, which has an upper weight limit of 108 pounds. “I think I’m still small, but that’s how it is,” she said. “It’s perseverance.”

More than 5,000 spectators packed the Centro Acuático CODE Metropolitano in Guadalajara for Monday’s opening ceremonies, which featured acrobats, synchronized swimmers in the diving pool, the unfurling of a huge Mexican flag by Mexican soldiers, a mariachi band, folk dancers and pyrotechnics. Normally used for swimming and diving, the facility was transformed into a venue worthy of hosting 710 athletes and 570 officials from 120 nations (the swimming pool was covered by a surface topped with taekwondo mats).

When the Mexican athletes entered the arena wearing national clothing and sombreros, the crowd went wild.

That same level of electricity returned on Wednesday when Soltero captured her title, beating Serbian Aleksandra Perisic two rounds to one in the final — with the stoked crowd chanting “Mexico! Mexico!” and “Leslie! Leslie!” as a mariachi band played on the second floor of the stands.

“Mexico is a beautiful country, because if you win, all of Mexico wins. They all feel it,” said Soltero, who is from Mexicali, Baja California. “They give me my energy.”

Leslie Soltero Taekwondo World Championships
“Mexico is a beautiful country, because if you win, all of Mexico wins. They all feel it,” said Soltero.

Soltero, whose full name is Leslie Xcaret Soltero García, is a two-time medalist in the Pan American Games (bronze in 2021 and silver in 2022) who went to an all-sports camp in 2008 and fell in love with taekwondo. This week marked her biggest win ever, and things got intense when the final went to a third and deciding round.

“I am world champion! I have obtained it!” she exclaimed afterward. “I was crying because I could not believe it. Crying was like breathing after a fight, like a relief.”

At the time, Soltero became Mexico’s fifth world taekwondo champion, joining Óscar Mendiola Cruz (Germany, 1979), Edna Díaz Acevedo (Spain, 2005), Maria del Rosario Espinoza (China, 2007) and Uriel Adriano Avigdor (Puebla, Mexico, 2013).

Less than 24 hours later, another athlete had joined the list: Daniela Paola Souza Naranjo, 23, who was born in Zapopan, Jalisco, but grew up in Tijuana. Souza beat China’s Qing Guo two rounds to one in an intense final, but to get there she pulled off an even bigger win over past Olympic and world champion Panipak Wongpattanakit of Thailand.

“I want to be an Olympic champion in Paris 2024. That is the next call,” Soltero, 21, said. CONADE

“Representing my country in this way and giving this joy in this way, I don’t know how to explain it,” Souza said. “It is an achievement that I share with the people of my nation.”

Souza competed in the flyweight category, which has an upper weight limit of 108 pounds. “I think I’m still small, but that’s how it is,” she said. “It’s perseverance.” Soltero competed as a middleweight, which has an upper limit of 147.7 pounds.

Mexico also claimed another medal in the competition, with 28-year-old Bryan Salazar from Tamaulipas taking bronze in the 87-kilogram (191.8 pounds category). Salazar also has a Pan American gold (2018) to his name and serves as the Mexican national team captain.

In past Summer Olympics, Mexican athletes have claimed two gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes in taekwondo. The golds were both won in 2008 in Beijing, China, by María del Rosario Espinoza from La Brecha, Sinaloa, and Guillermo Pérez from Uruapan Michoacán. Espinoza also won a bronze in London 2012 and a silver in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, tying her with three others for most taekwondo medals in Olympics history.

With reports from Excelsior, Proceso, World Taekwondo and Inside the Games

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