Ruslan Zhaparov is a developing talent as Tokyo 2020 approaches

Ruslan Zhaparov is a developing talent as Tokyo 2020 approaches

At the age of 23, Ruslan Zhaparov is developing into one of the finest heavyweight taekwondo exponents in the world.

But two of the proudest moments in his career thus far have involved the earning of acclaim rather than medals.

Zhaparov, born on May 27 in 1996, was just 20 when he was honoured by being named as Kazakhstan’s flag bearer during the Parade of Nations at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

Three years on, in Rome’s Foro Italico arena, he caught the attention for an act of sportsmanship after earning his first appearance in a World Taekwondo Grand Prix final.

Zhaparov trailed Britain’s Mahama Cho in the second round of their semi-final but produced a grandstand finish in the third round to secure a narrow victory. 

What caused the crowd to re-double its applause, however, was the way in which the two opponents embraced and congratulated each other after the bout was over.

"It is a sport; we are not enemies," Zhaparov told World Taekwondo. "Respect is very important. Taekwondo is a beautiful sport - we have to respect each other.

"Cho is seven years older than me. After the fight he [Cho] said to me I had grown up a lot since we last met. He said I had progressed well over the last two years. He is very good; I respect him."

Cho commented: "Zhaparov was much better than me on the day; technically and physically. He was absolutely clinical in every aspect."

Although he was beaten in the final by Russia’s Vladislav Larin, Zhaparov was satisfied by the highest achievement in his career up to that point, adding: "It feels really good. It is my first Grand Prix medal. I am very happy. I feel like my work has paid off. It was amazing fights. One by one. And really difficult fights. It is a big experience for me…"

That silver now sits alongside the two medals he won in 2018 - a silver at the Asian Championships and a bronze at the Asian Games.

Zhaparov’s achievement in June - at the first of the three Grand Prix series meetings preceding December’s final in Moscow - was all the greater for the fact that he had only recently returned to training a month earlier following a four-month absence with a broken hand.

"My coach says if you want to be the best you have to beat the best," he added. "It is a big experience for me and I will prepare for the next Grand Prix and aim to take the gold."

A Decade of Discord

A Decade of Discord

Ten years ago, at the end of the Noughties, I was given the perfect laptop bag. It is sturdy, compact and sensibly compartmentalised. I still take it on every overseas trip.