|Lee Dae-hoon of Korea, left, poses with the World Taekwondo (WT) President Choue Chung-won, center, and Bianca Walkden of the U.K. after winning the Best Male Athlete of the Year award at the WT's Gala Awards in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday. / Courtesy of WT|
By Baek Byung-yeul
Korean taekwondo athlete Lee Dae-hoon has been named the Best Male Athlete of the Year by World Taekwondo (WT), Monday.
Lee was awarded the honor at the WT's Gala Show in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The 25-year-old now has won the award three out of the four times since it has been awarded.
Though he struggled with his English, Lee delivered his acceptance speech in English. "I have always thought that there is something for me to learn from watching the people here. I have learned many things from watching you guys," said Lee.
This year, Lee won the men's under-68kg weight class at the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul and won three out of four Grand Prix titles.
His latest Grand Prix win came on Sunday as Lee defeated Russia's Alexey Denisenko 14-13 in the men's under-68kg weight class gold medal match. With the win, Lee became the first practitioner to complete the three-peat in the history of the Grand Prix Final, established in 2013. Lee won his previous Grand Prix Finals in Mexico City in 2015 and Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2016.
For the Best Female Athlete of the Year award, British taekwondo athlete Bianca Walkden earned the honor as she defended her World Championship title and claimed all four of the Grand Prix tournaments. At the Grand Prix Final on Saturday, Walkden defeated Korea's Lee Da-bin 16-9 in the women's over-67kg weight class.
"I want to say ‘thank you' to everyone, I am still shocked, I am so pleased," said Walkden. "I've got one more competition left. I am going to win the Grand Slam, then I am going to take a break!" Her reference was to the upcoming Grand Slam Champions Series, a new, made-for-TV competition format set to make its debut in Wuxi, China, at year's end.
Walkden's long-time boyfriend Aaron Cook of Moldova also took the Best Kick of the year award. The WT said he won the title for the second time for his spinning heel kick to the head of Russia's Anton Kotkov at the Moscow Grand Prix Series 1. "I don't know what to say, I am just here to support Bianca," Cook said. "It is a great honor to get this award for a second time.
Korea won the Best Member Nation Association of the Year for successfully hosting the biggest World Championships ever in taekwondo history. This year's World Taekwondo Championships was the largest ever, with 971 athletes and 796 officials from 183 countries.