Filipino Olympian profile: Kurt Barbosa, taekwondo’s comeback kid, eyes ultimate prize

Dennis Gasgonia, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2021 12:00 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2021 07:19 AM

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When Kurt Barbosa steps inside the mat in Tokyo, expect the Filipino taekwondo fighter to bring every bit of energy and determination he showed in training to prepare for international sport's biggest stage.

Barbosa was virtually locked out from the world since January this year, sleeping, eating and training just to prepare for the Games.

The 22-year-old trained for so long just to qualify for the Olympics and he really wants to score a medal once he competes in Tokyo. 

"Ang gusto kong ma-achieve is makuha ang gold medal," said the Bangued town, Abra, native in an interview on "ANC Conversations." "Ang kalaban ko lang dito ang sarili ko lang talaga para makuha ang gold medal."

Barbosa was scouted for the Philippine national team after competing at the Philippine National Games where he represented Abra. 

He later became part of the Philippine Taekwondo Association's grassroots program before officially joining the national team at the age 20. 

Barbosa also represented National University in the UAAP, becoming Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in taekwondo in Season 81.
 
He won himself a gold medal in the 30th Southeast Asian Games topping the mens-54-kilogram category, a victory that set the stage for his Olympic campaign.

He joined Philippine taekwondo's elite group, training in a closed-door bubble setting starting January.

"Ang hirap noon, lalo nu'ng first month namin doon. Wala kang nakikitang ibang tao. Hindi pwedeng pumasok lahat sa bubble," said his coach, Caloy Padilla. 

"Pero sa pangarap nating makapasok sa Olympics at makakuha ng medal, kaya naman nating magsacrifice. Lahat ng sacrifice namin nagbubunga naman."

Barbosa's sacrifices eventually paid off when he became the lone Filipino jin to score an Olympic berth through the 2021 Asian Qualification Tournament in Amman, Jordan last May.

He won the match via dramatic fashion. 

With a never-say-die attitude, he battled his way back from a double-digit deficit late in the final round to stun the taller hometown bet, Zaid Al-Halawani, in the men’s -58kg semifinals. 

"Nakita ko kasi pagod na ang kalaban tapos may natitira pang oras, so ang ginawa ko lang pumasok ako sa kanya at nakikita ko hirap na siya magdefend," said Barbosa. "Sumipa lang po ako."

He won by a point, 50-49, after being down by 5 with seconds remaining, a rare result. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kurt Barbosa (@kurtesyyy)

Barbosa said he plans to do the same when he fights in Tokyo — give his best, and never surrender until the final buzzer sounds.

"Gagawin ko ang way para makuha ang medal," he said. 

"Kahit sobrang sikip ng butas na kailangang pasukin, papasukin. Paghihirapan ko." 

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