Deanna Kyriazopoulos is one of the nation’s young prospects in the Olympics’ preferred kick-and-punch martial art. The diminutive Sydneysider competes in the under-46kg category, the lightest weight class on the women’s side. Deanna talks to Inside Sport about how she started out in the sport
“For me, as a young kid, my parents put me into dancing, gymnastics— you know, girly sports. It wasn’t for me. We had a local Taekwondo gym near our house, and I started training there. I started to realise I had talent and my passion for the sport grew. I stuck with it, moved club, got better, made national teams.
“I just wanted to do something a little bit different. I’m very competitive, whether it’s fighting someone, being more flexible or having a nicer kick. I’ve always wanted to be the best, so I just got better. I’m a perfectionist; I have to do everything right. To have that structure and discipline from a young age, it just stuck with me. If I miss a training session, even now, I don’t feel right.”
“Flexibility plays a role. Being strong, powerful, — all things you generally need while playing a sport. But I would say that our sport is heavily based on your brain: how smart you are, how tactical you are, how well you put things together, how you read the play. All these things other things like flexibility and speed are important, but it really is a mind game, even though it’s a contact sport. It’s like a chess game – you have to read what they’re going to do, you have to counter it, you have to attack them.
“People are usually shocked when they see me. They don’t expect me because I’m quite small. I don’t look like a fighter, they think I’m a gymnast.
“There is this perception that being tall is an advantage, and to some extent it is. But I’m one of the smallest in my division, and I don’t struggle with height difference at all. You need to work with what you have, and for me, I’m very flexible, so reaching the head is not a problem. If I’m inside their distance, are they too close to kick me? All these things count.”
The Taekwando way
“From a young age, every time we graded, my coach would make us learn part of the philosophy of taekwando. It’s very spiritual, you do learn a lot about yourself. You spend a lot of time on your own training – you spend time fighting alone, so you need to connect with yourself. You learn that self-control, discipline, patience, and all these skills that stick with you throughout your life, whether it’s in sport, your job or your studies.
“Now, I don’t read into the philosophy of taekwando so much, because I focus on my training and fighting. But I do see how the key teachings stick with you, how they’re instilled in you from a young age: to be patient, to sit down, to wait your turn. It’s just something that comes to the sport.”