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Israeli who lost both hands aged 13 takes gold at World Para Taekwondo Championships

Assaf Yasur, whose arms were amputated at the elbow when he was a teen, kicks his way to victory 6 years later, defeating the European champion along the way

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Assaf Yasur at the World Para Taekwondo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2021. (Israel Taekwondo Federation)
Assaf Yasur at the World Para Taekwondo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2021. (Israel Taekwondo Federation)

Israeli competitor Assaf Yasur won a gold medal on Saturday at the World Para Taekwondo Championships, held in Istanbul.

Yasur, 19, who lost both his arms below the elbow six years ago, kicked his way to victory over a Turkish rival in the Men’s under-58 kilogram weight category. He beat Qli Can Ozcan by 57-42 points to claim the medal.

“I still haven’t absorbed it,” Yasur said after his victory, noting he had faced five different competitors in bouts during the day to win the final. In the semi-final, he defeated the European champion.

“I am happy, and I am the happiest person for the path I chose, for the medal, and for this crazy day,” Yasur said.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper congratulated Yasur on his achievement, saying in a statement that he is “a wonderful young man for whom the sky is the limit.”

Yasur had shown once again that “he is a gift to the country when he took the gold medal” which led to the playing of the national anthem, Hatikva, Tropper wrote.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted that Yasur is “not just a source of huge national pride for our country, but he is also a reminder that willpower can take you to the loftiest peaks.”

Though Yasur did not qualify for the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year, his win in Istanbul sets him on the path to being a strong candidate for the Paris games in 2024.

Noa Shmida, secretary-general of the Israel Taekwondo Federation, also welcomed Yasur’s “amazing achievement.”

“We are very proud,” Shmida said in a statement reported by Channel 12 News. “Assaf has been identified by the Taekwondo Federation as having huge potential for medals in the major competitions, world championships and the Paralympic Games in Paris.”

Assaf Yasur, right, competes at the World Para Taekwondo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2021. (Israel Taekwondo Federation)

Yasur was injured when he was just 13 years old as he played soccer with some friends.

Their ball was kicked into an electric company installation near his home in northern Israel.

Yasur climbed inside to retrieve the ball, but lost his balance as he was coming out. He grabbed a high-voltage cable to steady himself and the resulting jolt caused injuries requiring both arms to be amputated at the elbow.

Assaf Yasur at the World Para Taekwondo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2021. (Israel Taekwondo Federation)

In the years that followed he was determined to embrace a sport that required only the use of his legs, deciding on the Korean martial art of taekwondo because of its focus on legwork, he told the Ynet news site in 2019.

After his story was covered by the media, members of the public raised NIS 1 million in donations (at the time approximately $250,000) for him to be fitted with two prosthetic bionic arms that he controls through brain signals.

Taekwondo has gained popularity in Israel in recent years, with practitioner Avishag Semberg winning an Olympic bronze medal earlier this year.

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