Taekwondo Champion Danish Manzoor Dreams to Win a Gold for India
Jammu and Kashmir needs to invest in sports’ infrastructure
Danish Manzoor, a young taekwondo athlete hailing from District Baramulla, Jammu & Kashmir, was a school student when he discovered an interest in Taekwondo. He signed up with the district association under the tutelage of coach Ashfaq Ahmad Wani. It took coach Wani just a few days to spot an extraordinary talent in Danish, who was outperforming his peers at the training sessions. Danish impressed his coach so much that he set aside separate timings for his training. Danish never forgot that gesture, “he was so kind to me during practice that it is really hard to define if he was a teacher or a friend," he said.
Danish hasn't looked back since he debuted in his first Taekwondo tournament in 2011. That year, at his first state-level Taekwondo competition, Danish won a bronze medal. Later in the same year, the North India National was held in Srinagar, and Danish won a gold medal.
In 2013, which Danish proudly called the “golden era”, he won a series of gold medals in tournaments such as Open Kashmir, Gulmarg Cup, State Championships, and District Gold. he also took part in the all-India Junior National Taekwondo Championship held in Pondicherry and qualified at the fourth position, becoming the first Kashmiri ever to achieve the feat.
Initially, Danish started learning Taekwondo for self-defense, but after winning his first State lever gold medal he began to see the sport as a profession. Danish represented Jammu and Kashmir at the Asian Indoor Trials held at Sports Authority of Aurangabad in 2017. In 2018 Danish finally turned professional and joined the Atul International Taekwondo Academy in Jammu, to be mentored by the international coach Atul Pangotra. Danish represented Jammu and Kashmir in the Asian Championships trials, and attended a camp under top Olympic coach Paul Green of Great Britain.
In 2019, the G1 ranked Taekwondo Championship was sanctioned in India, and Danish was one of the athletes competing in it. Though he amazed everyone with his skills, unfortunately, he had to withdraw due to an injury during a bout. This was heartbreaking for Danish because he was about to win that fight by a huge margin.
However, Danish remains optimistic, as he sees that his growth as an athlete has inspired parents to send their kids to learn Taekwondo to different academies. He said now “the need of the hour is infrastructure and coaching centers. We need more coaches like Atul Pangotra who can produce result-oriented players."
After Covid pandemic hit India, Danish started practicing at home and took part in an online historic event organized by World Taekwondo, the Online Daedo European Poomsae Taekwondo Championships. Danish was among the top 20 in the world ranking. At a national level competition held at Ropar Punjab, the Tokey Memorial National Taekwondo Championships, he clinched a silver medal and was declared the best player of the tournament.
In early 2022, Danish started training for the G2 Olympic Ranking Taekwondo championships that were supposed to be held in Iran. He was sponsored by Aspire Educational Services Private Limited (AESPL) Mamath Budgam. However, another heartbreak was in store for Danish, when the airlines denied him boarding at the Delhi Airport, because he had received only one dose of vaccination.
Danish tried to explain that he had recently been vaccinated with a single dose and, had a negative RTPCR report, but no one listened."I wasn't allowed to board the flight, it was sheer heartbreak for me to see the team leaving for Iran. and I was left there at the airport. It was the worst experience of my life. I cried like a baby but the rules were so strict that I had no option but to return home” he recalled. According to Danish he was traumatised for a long time, “after training so hard, it was a nightmare for me. After months I consoled myself that It was not my luck."
Now Danish is preparing for upcoming international ranking events, with a focus on the selection trials of the Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, China. He believes that his friends are his biggest strength, and has always backed him. “Whenever I come back from any championship or camp they are as excited as my family. They even share my training videos on their social media accounts” he said with a smile.
Danish is concerned that there is no professional Taekwondo Academy in Kashmir and whenever he has to prepare for any championship, he has to travel to Jammu, and other places to train. “We have only coach Atul Pangotra in our Union Territory. There is no other qualified Taekwondo coach here” said Danish, adding that the J&K authorities should focus on uplifting the Olympic sports and producing more Olympians. “I am thankful to D. N Pangotra. president of J & K Taekwondo Association, who always provided us with great training camps and has always supported me,” he said.
But there is hope, as inspired by Danish, parents have recognized the importance of sports, “they asked me in detail about the sport, and how they can also train their children.”