Excellence in sports can be a salvation to a person or family. It can provide escape from the hardships in life. Solomon Tufa had the chance to watch his two sisters train for various international athletics competitions, while all along, dreaming of wearing the national team jersey and representing his country. Egged on by his sisters, Mestawet Tufa and Tigest Tufa, to be ready when his time comes, he would soon realize his dream.
The youngest among eight siblings, Solomon was born in Bekoji town of Oromia regional state in 1998. At the age of two, his family decided to take him to Addis Ababa, where he started his primary education. After sixth grade, he moved to Adama city to join his mother.
Even though his two sisters were popular in long-distance running, his desire and dream was to become a world taekwondo champion. He recounted that going with his brothers to taekwondo competitions and ceremonies made him fall in love with the sport.
Alongside attending his regular classes, Solomon joined one of the taekwondo clubs in Adama, exercising four days a week.
“My coach was very kind, helpful and he trained me very hard. After my regular classes, I am always in the gym to train,” Solomon told The Reporter.
Taekwondo is Korean martial arts that teaches more than physical fighting skills. Currently, it has become a global sport that has gained international reputation and grown into an Olympic sport.
According to the World Taekwondo and Olympic rules, sparring is a full-contact event and takes place between two competitors on a matted 8-meter octagon. And for Solomon, sparring was his first choice, training regularly after school, and on Sundays.
“Eventually, taekwondo became a part of my life and I am passionate about it. It makes me happier and happier day after day,” Solomon said.
Through time, with the support of experienced club coaches guiding him and taking additional courses to develop his fighting skills, Solomon managed to compete in the Adama open tournament, Oromia Championships and school tournaments. Then, in 2014, he joined the newly opened Ethiopia Sports Academy, which allowed him pursue his education along with the sport.
Afterwards, Solomon managed to join the national team representing Ethiopia in the All African Games. Struggling to continue with his studies, he decided to drop out of school after reaching ninth grade. Solomon said frequent exercises ahead of tournaments had made it hard to keep up with school studies.
“I remember I always slept in class and the students laughed at me. So, I decided to withdraw from school and turned my focus towards my sport,” Solomon said.
However, he still plans to continue through distance education. “I was planning to continue my studies. But I am not a person who could manage two things at once. I prefer to focus on a single thing. So, I preferred to strongly concentrate on my sport,” Solomon insisted.
After joining the national team, he featured in various open tournaments. The second African Youth Games, which took place in Gaborone, Botswana in 2014, was the stage where Solomon made his debut in an international tournament. In the tournament, he and his other five colleagues collected six medals: one silver and five gold.
He also represented Ethiopia in the 2015 All African Games in the 54 kg weight division held in Brazzaville, Congo. However, Solomon was injured and could not qualify to the next round.
“One of my legs was injured and I competed through all the matches with one leg. It was very painful for me and I didn’t make it,” Solomon told The Reporter.
Nevertheless, after a one-year injury enforced break, he came back stronger winning the 2017 gold medal in the senior Africa Championship in Morocco. In 2018, he competed in the African Presidential Cup which Europeans took part in as well.
During that time, he managed to get victories against Russian, German, French, Moroccan and Belgian opposition in one day and was named best African player. Solomon further clinched accolades participating in Holland and Turkish open tournament.
Now living his dream, Solomon represented the Ethiopian national team in the World Taekwondo 2020 Summer Olympic qualification tournament held in February 2020 in Rabat, Morocco where he finished third. Solomon now awaits the Tokyo Olympics to represent Ethiopia in the 58 and 54kg weight division.
“It was tough competition as all opponents fought to qualify for the Olympic Games. I prepared hard with my coaches and I tried my best. I finished third,” he said.
Training in various countries including in Korea and Russia, Solomon pointed out that taekwondo players around the world have many chances to participate in competitions throughout the year. He said that there are only a few competitions in Ethiopia across the span of a year; he noted that it is one of the main challenges of the sport’s growth in the country.
“It is challenging for us due to lack of competitions. Once we participate in an annual tournament, nobody remembers afterwards,” Solomon said. In Addition to the lack of competitions, he said taekwondo is not considered as a major sport like athletics and football. Furthermore, the difficulty in getting essential equipment for regular exercises is another problem.
“World taekwondo is a sport which needs follow-ups and consideration. It is also one of the best sports in the world to mentor the youth. So, the government or sports commission needs to pay attention to this sport,” Solomon said.
Solomon, who had dreamt of wearing the national team jersey, is currently looking forward to representing Ethiopia in the World Taekwondo 2021 Tokyo Olympics.