Last month, Victorian Kerim Yilmaz became Australia’s first male World Taekwondo Cadet Championship medalist, but his coach says it has not always been smooth sailing for the young martial artist.
“It was always obvious Karim had a lot of potential but he just didn't have the right execution to perform at competitions,” said Yosafe Zakoulouta, Head Coach at the Striking Lab in Derrimut.
“He just wasn't winning, he was always coming short of the semi-finals.”
Yosafe has watched Karim persevere through defeat and training and says the young fighter always met defeat with an eagerness to learn.
Despite failing to make the best start to his career upon first entering a competitive division, he says Karim never lost motivation - a quality which set him apart amongst the rest.
“He was just constantly improving, now he has become an amazing athlete; fighting like a senior, extremely smart and efficient.”
Karim claimed Bronze in the Mens 156cm event after powering through his rounds on day two of the competition held in Serejevo.
He defeated Poland in the round of 32, followed by India before going on to beat Jordan in the Quarter Final, a fight Yosefe says will be difficult to forget.
“We were up till 3:30am here in Melbourne, planning and strategising, it was intense so when he won and made it to the semis I was going absolutely crazy, I couldn’t sleep.”
Yosefe worked in close consultation with the coaches overseas to ensure that Karim was constantly updated on proper tactics and insights into his opponents - a strategy that Yosefe admits lost him some sleep - but proved undeniably successful thanks to Karim's ability to take feedback onboard.
“I had Jerry who was coaching him overseas ringing me up and asking me what strategies we wanted to adopt for the next fight and I'd have watched the gameplay of the person that he would be fighting next,” he explained.
“And then we would create a game plan specific to the fighter and then Karim would execute in the fight amazingly well.”
The 14-year-old is the first male to win a medal for Australia at the World Taekwondo Cadet Championships, the last being won by female fighter Tiarnagh Sweeney of Queensland in 2019.
Kerim is a member of the Olympic Martial Arts Centre in Campbellfield, which is owned by Jemal Hasan, the father of Olympian Burak Hasan, who represented Australia at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
His coach believes he has what it takes to emulate the legends of his club.
“Karim’s a junior next year, I don't doubt that he could make a junior team and even medal at that,” he said.
“The way he’s been performing lately against the juniors is just phenomenal. The senior index that will be in the end goal for sure, he can definitely do it the way he is going.”
Kerim is a member of Australian Taekwondo’s Performance Pathways Program, which plays a critical part of taekwondo’s high-performance ecosystem by developing and nurturing athletes on their journey to become elite athletes.