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Lebanese taekwondo champion Laetitia Aoun reached the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Taian, China, on Saturday, securing her coveted ticket to the Paris Olympic Games.

Representing both the Lebanese national team and the Mont La Salle club, Aoun’s stellar performance in the qualifying event effortlessly earned her qualification for the Summer Olympic Games, set to unfold in the French capital from July 26 to August 11. Aoun’s objective was crystal clear: to advance to the final. Traveling to Taian, China, for the Olympic qualifying tournament, the Lebanese champion knew that her opportunity to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics relied heavily on clinching a victory in the semifinals. With unwavering determination, Aoun successfully achieved her mission, seizing her qualification following a triumphant semifinal match against Jessica Canabal of the Philippines in the under 57 kg weight category.

Alongside Aoun’s triumph, Lebanon also celebrated the bronze medals secured by Ray Raai (over 80 kg) and Ward Salman (over 67 kg) during the same qualifiers.

A meteoric rise

At just 22 years old, Laetitia Aoun will make her Olympic debut, marking the beginning of what promises to be a remarkable journey. A multiple-time Lebanese champion, she has already garnered numerous international accolades, including a bronze at the 2018 Asian Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia, and another bronze at the 2021 Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey.

Since her debut, Aoun has consistently ascended in her sport. In 2016, she claimed the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver, Canada, and by 2018, she soared to second place in the world junior rankings, setting the stage for her stellar career. At the senior level, Aoun further solidified her prowess by clinching two Arab champion titles (in 2020 and 2022) and securing ninth place at the world championships.

Habib Zarifeh, the catalyst

The turning point for taekwondo in Lebanon came with the appointment of Dr. Habib Zarifeh as the head of the sport’s federation in 2016. A former taekwondo champion himself, Zarifeh, who had been a Lebanese champion multiple times from 1999 to 2007, brought a wealth of experience and expertise to the position. He swiftly implemented his ideas, rigor and discipline, gradually elevating the standards of the sport while setting ambitious objectives.

The dynamic president of the Federation, Zarifeh, had set his sights on winning an Olympic medal at the 2021, 2024 and potentially the 2028 Olympic Games. Following Laetitia Aoun’s qualification, Dr. Habib Zarifeh reached out to congratulate her on behalf of the Lebanese taekwondo community. Jihad Salameh, president of the Mont La Salle club, also extended his congratulations to Aoun on her success on behalf of the club.

In an interview with This is Beirut in January 2023, Laetitia Aoun had already expressed her hopes of qualifying for the Paris Games. She had climbed an impressive 35 places in the world rankings in just one year (2022). Her first Olympic dream came at a price, and now with an Olympic podium in her sights, all that remains is to turn that dream into reality. Count on Laetitia Aoun to go for it head-on.

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