15th World Wushu Championships Biggest WWC in History in Shanghai, China

15th WWC, sanda, taolu, wwc

The 15th World Wushu Championships, held October 19-23, 2019, was the largest World Wushu Championships (WWC) event to date, with 102 countries and regions attending. It was organized by the city of Shanghai, with the support of the Chinese Wushu Association, under the auspices of the IWUF. This grand gathering for the sport of wushu included special appearances by stars Jet Li and Vincent Zhao, and it was broadcast live to an audience of millions both in China and around the globe. The Championships saw 1106 participants with 587 athletes, 312 team officials, and 78 judges. China came first in the rankings with 14 gold medals out of 16 total, while Iran ranked second with an impressive 9 golds out of 12. Hong Kong placed third with 5 gold medals and 10 total. The rest of the top ten rankings were placed, respectively by Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, and India.

Beyond the pageantry and impressive numbers in Shanghai, another compelling story emerged around the triumphs of many smaller countries – those who were attending the WWC for the first time, countries who medaled for the first time in history, or those teams with athletes who broke their scoring ceiling of 9.0. These more intimate and personal “firsts” reflect not only the soul of the championships, but also the growth of wushu worldwide, and the success the IWUF is making in its consistent efforts to raise the level of the sport everywhere.

Opening Ceremony of 15th World Wushu Championships Dazzles Shanghai Audience with Wushu Spectacle and Jet Li

The opening ceremony of the 15th World Wushu Championships thrilled a packed audience at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai on the eve of the Championships with dazzling wushu spectacle and a special appearance from Jet Li.

First came the march in of the flag of the IWUF, followed by a parade of flags of the 15th WWC participating countries and regions, and then the national anthem of China was played. Ying Yong, the Mayor of Shanghai, welcomed guests to the event and the city of Shanghai. Yu Zaiqing, Vice President of the International Olympic Committee and President of the International Wushu Federation gave a speech and talked about the fame of Shanghai as a renowned wushu center of culture, and Gou Zhongwen, Director of the State General Administration of Sports and President of the Chinese Olympic Committee, also welcomed guests to Shanghai and to the 15th World Wushu Championships. 

Oaths were given by the representatives of the athletes and judges, and the official opening announcement was made by Li Qiang, Secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee. The audience was then treated to a lavish multimedia wushu performance, topped by the appearance of Jet Li, who spoke movingly of the deep values of wushu. Uplifted and energized, the athletes, officials, and other participants of the 15th WWC ended the evening ready to start the competition the next morning.

Day 1 – 15th World Wushu Championships

Day 1 of the 15th World Wushu Championships got off to a rollicking start with a slew of high scores early on, and a packed audience enjoyed a morning session capped by Jet Li awarding the gold medal to delighted Macau Jianshu athlete Yi Li. Men’s Daoshu saw some fierce competition, as home team favorite Wu Zhaohua of China took first place and held onto it to the end. The final competitor on the carpet, Ilias Khusnutidnov of Russia, rocked the stadium with his routine, scoring a 9.643 that secured him the silver medal, and Si Wei Jowen Lim of Singapore grabbed the bronze.

Sanda got started with early rounds whittling down the competition. Evening taolu competition saw Shangyang Chuah of Malaysia nab the gold in Men’s Xingyiquan, while the Men’s Nanquan category offered the audience favorite international stars like Michele Giordano, and a gold medal performance by Chinese athlete Yongda Liang. China also took gold in Women’s Taijiquan, and Women’s Nanquan.

Wushu heroes were also boosting the electric atmosphere of the first day’s events, and we came across former WWC gold medalists and old friends Daria Tarasova and Xiaoxiao Lai hanging out, and enjoying the competition together. Xiaoxiao told us, “I really enjoy being here at this competition. And I also actually feel nervous, because being a professional athlete myself, I can relate to all the competitors. How they feel, the thoughts that are going through their head, and the adrenaline. It makes me want to compete!” We asked if she had any advice for competitors at the WWC. She reflected for a moment, and replied, “I think the biggest obstacle, aside from the ones during training, is the failure you will face in competitions. And those failures would often make you want to give up. But these are all part of the growth of an athlete. Even top athletes will face these problems. And the only way out of this is to push on and train harder with a positive mindset.”

DAY 2 – 15th World Wushu Championships

On Day 2 of the 15th World Wushu Championships we saw seasoned favorites win gold and several new athletes rise to become champions as well. Russia’s queen of Daoshu, Sandra Konstantinova, flew through the air to claim top honors with a score of 9.653. Elated after her win, and surrounded by her smiling team ready to celebrate, she commented, “I’m so happy to win the gold medal – it was my dream and my goal for the last four years. I feel very proud to represent Russia when I hear my national anthem played, and I truly thank my coach for these results.” Hong Kong’s seasoned star Xuxu Lu took silver, and Mia Tian of the USA won bronze to the enthusiastic cheers of her teammates.

Israel won its historic first gold WWC medal ever, with a dazzling and dynamic Shuangjian performance from Anastasia Chiriliuc wowing the audience with her graceful flying moves. Having trained in wushu since she was seven years old, Anastasia described her feelings when she realized she had won the gold medal: “I couldn’t believe it at first – it was a shock, and then immense excitement. Before my performance, I was a little stressed, but when I went out on the carpet, I was very goal-focused. I stepped off the carpet with a confidence that I did the best I could and maybe a little more. I felt a great honor and pride being able to represent my country with such huge success. I believed I would be in the medals, but I was not thinking about being the champion, because that is a completely different thing. My coach was very happy and proud.”

Men’s Taijiquan showed extremely high level all around, but China’s Bihui Cui took top podium spot with perfect grace and power. Men’s Changquan saw a whopping 84 competitors making it no small feat for Indonesia’s Edgar Xavier Marvelo to seize the gold.

Sanda sessions offered some incredible action as champions emerged with flying fists and feet, devastating throws and takedowns, and a cheering audience that enjoyed each and every fight. The highlights of the evening were the two finals in the Women’s sanda division where superstar Shahrbano Mansourian Semiromi (70KG) and her longtime teammate Maryam Hashemiforoud each won a fifth career gold medal in the World Wushu Championships – a historical WWC accomplishment only ever matched by sanda legends Muslim Salikhov and Bozigit Ataev. 

Day 3 – 15th World Wushu Championships

Day 3 of the World Wushu Championships continued the excitement in taolu and sanda. Iranian fans went wild when Mohammed Foroushani won gold for Iran in Men’s Nandao – another historic first. Dr. Mahdi Alinejad, President of the Iran Wushu Federation, remarked afterwards, “The taolu events at the 15th World Wushu Championships have been a very good experience for our team, and happily we got our first gold medal in an individual event. Previously we had only won gold in Duilian – but this time an 18-year old boy from our team got a gold medal. We invested a lot in taolu for the past 13 years and I’m so happy our investment is successful. This excites us to continue to develop taolu in Iran.”

Men’s Shuangdao offered lively competition won by Seungjae Cho of Korea, followed closely by Ukraine’s Viacheslav Krysko taking silver, and Macau’s Wai Keong Chio nabbing the bronze. Women’s Gunshu featured another breathtaking showdown between Russia and Hong Kong, this time with Xuxu Lu topping the podium and Sandra Konstantinova happily accepting silver, while Vietnam’s Thi Phuong Giang Hoang won bronze. Malaysia again proved invincible in Women’s Nandao with Cheong Min Tang emerging as top champ, while a beautiful performance from Iran’s Hanieh Rajabi won silver, and power from Uzbekistan’s Darya Latisheva clinched the bronze. Women’s Changquan witnessed another gold go to China, won by Mengjiao Guo, while Yi Li from Macau took silver and Zahra Kiani offered a fine performance for bronze.

In sanda two more women’s finals took place as Vietnam’s Thi Chinh Nguyen found gold with a feisty performance on the leitai, and Elaheh Mansourian Semiromi won her third gold WWC medal, keeping up with her golden sister Shahrbano. The two sisters embraced with joy and tears of emotion, as they had already set the wheels in motion for the incredible gold medal sweep to come at the 15th World Wushu Championships.

15th World Wushu Championships – Day 4 and Closing Ceremony

The fourth and last day in Shanghai was action-packed from start to finish, with taolu culminating in the morning session, and exciting sanda finals both morning and afternoon. Russia’s Pavel Muratov offered a high flying Qiangshu performance to grab the gold medal – Russia’s second – while Hong Kong, China dominated the last morning amassing golds in Men’s Taijiquan, Women’s Nangun, and Women’s Duilian. The Indonesian Men’s Duilian team captured both the gold and cheers from the audience as they set the carpet on fire with thrilling skill and speed.

In sanda, of the 14 finals in morning and afternoon, Iran and China showed strong dominance on the leitai, together topping the podium 10 times. For the first time in WWC history Iran took the top spot in the sanda medals, with 8 gold out of 8 medals, followed by China with 6 gold out of 8 total medals. Other gold medals were won by Vietnam, India, Egypt, and Lebanon, the latter claiming their first gold medal ever amidst a jubilant celebration.

In the evening, we saw the debut of the Creative Group Event, which was exciting and entertaining, with a new judging protocol, and several wushu star judges including Vincent Zhao. The first place went to China, second place to Chinese Taipei, and third place to Hong Kong, China who tied their score with Ukraine at 18.63.

The closing ceremony that followed included another dynamic wushu performance, a celebratory speech from IWUF Secretary General Zhang Qiuping, and a final appearance from President Yu Zaiqing who passed the flag from China to the USA for the next 16th World Wushu Championships which will be held in Dallas, Texas. 

Remarkable and Inspiring First Time Triumphs

This 15th WWC was also notable for some of its remarkable stories highlighting benchmark experiences and important firsts for many athletes and countries. Some small countries won big and vaulted their nation onto the gold medal map  – both Israel and Lebanon won their first WWC gold medals ever. Rwanda, a new member of IWUF, shone a light on East Africa as it brought a team for its debut WWC competition and gained a wealth of experience. New Oceania members, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, also introduced sanda athletes to their first experiences at a world championships. Many junior athletes moved up to adult competition for the first time, including rising star Brenda Porfirio da Silva who brought great pride to Brazil with her outstanding performances. Sweden and Norway showed the world their up and coming athletes from the NorSwedish National Team, and broke the 9.0 score ceiling twice. And a new and promising younger team from USA qualified 6 out of 8 taolu team members for the 2020 Taolu World Cup with top-8 placings in at least one event.

We caught up with some athletes and coaches to hear about some of these diverse, unique experiences. The Rwanda wushu team was having their first taste of world championships competition. Taolu athlete Claudien Kwizera, 22, told us, “I came here and learned about many techniques from other athletes in Changquan, and one thing I see is that I see that I need more power in my routine. Now I will train more for next championships. Now I need to go back and work hard in my country.” Emmanuel Havugimana, 28, said, “I feel good, this is my first time in Shanghai, and first world championships event. I am competing in Nanquan and Nangun. I have made many friends here, and had many good experiences; I saw how others compete and I learned a lot from watching and talking to them. Now I want to correct my taolu and improve my skills. I will try my best for the next World Wushu Championships.”

The Brazilian team, warm and enthusiastic as always, added their usual charm, friendliness and fine sportsmanship to the event. We saw young Brenda Porfirio da Silva show great promise at last year’s junior wushu championships in Brasilia, and her move up to adult competition fulfilled that promise with her excellent Shanghai showing where she garnered a 9.03 in Jianshu and a 9.183 in Qiangshu. Even better, her older brother Brandon was competing as her teammate, and her father, Joao, was there to coach them both. At the end of the event Brenda told us, “At just 14 years old, competing in such a big competition was amazing, and I can say I’ll never forget this experience. I learned a lot, and I could appreciate everything that the competition could offer me. I met up with many people I know who worked hard also to come here to Shanghai, and we have shared many experiences at this competition. It was awesome.” Her brother Brandon Porfirio da Silva said, “I believe every experience in life has a reason. Having the opportunity to show our martial spirit within competitions is really spectacular. I say “ours” because I was not alone. It was my sister’s first World Championships, 14 years old, among the best in the world. And if we have the respect of the best, it is because we are among them here in Shanghai.” Their father João Ferreira added, “These world championships were very special for me. Despite being responsible for the taolu team of 8 athletes, among them were my children Brandon and Brenda competing together in the World Championships for the first time. In this case I tried to separate the Coach and the Dad, and whenever they performed there was a lot of emotion involved. This event fuels their evolution, they are always helping each other and cheering for each other. It really was unique and special, and we will keep it in our hearts for the rest of our lives. The World Championships is a spectacular event, the taolu team from Brazil came very close to their best performances.”

Next to athletes from tropical Brazil were some from colder climes of Scandinavia, where both Sweden and Norway made breakthroughs as well. Former athlete and now coach Kim Gibson was excited about the teams’ results. “I work for both the Swedish and Norwegian Federations,” he explained. “Both teams set new records at this WWC, 9th place for our Norwegian 17-year-old in Xingyi, Jonas Thorsen Loe, and 7th for our Swedish Shuangdao athlete Alex Westerkull. I’m really proud of both of them. Alex set a new Swedish WWC record with his 9.126 score. He stays both curious and humble, and I’m looking forward to his new heights in future. He also makes a huge contribution as a role model to all our athletes back home.” Gibson added, “Jonas got a great result at his first senior championships, and at his debut here in Shanghai he was prepared and independent. Both these athletes will offer guidance and inspiration to our future team athletes, especially looking towards Morocco next year and the World Junior Wushu Championships.”

The Lebanese Wushu Federation had a massive celebration in the sanda hall when Michel Zammar (90+ kg) won the team’s first gold medal in history. With five total medals, this was the most successful event for Lebanon ever, raising them 11th in the overall rankings. The federation’s president, Georges Nseir, told us, “Our first medal for Lebanon was in the 2nd World Wushu Championships in Kuala Lumpur in 1993, and since then we have not missed a world championships event and have always come home with one single medal, silver or bronze. But here in Shanghai, we got our first gold medal – and not only that – also one silver and three bronze medals! It’s historical, and for the first time Lebanon ranked fifth in sanda. The players and the coaches spent a long time constructing a team, and on a low budget as well. This success, I think, is not only for this team, but it’s for all trainers, coaches, judges, clubs, and team leaders since 1974. Of course this success will really help promote wushu in Lebanon, especially sanda as one of the top martial arts in the country.”

The USA qualified more athletes for the next Taolu World Cup than in any previous WWC. Eugene Moy, coach of the U.S. team, told us, “Overall I feel the U.S. did well in Shanghai, performing to their ability and displaying promising potential for the future. We came to Shanghai with a young taolu team, mostly between the ages of 15-18. All of them had performances they could be proud of, with minimal quality deductions and hitting almost all of their nandu. Their overall performance was probably the most solid and consistent US team result I can recall at a World Championships in recent memory – there were no poor performances.” He added, “Returning U.S. team sisters Lucy Lee (18) and Mia Tian (16), are both former World Junior champions and Women’s Duilian silver medalists from the last World Championships two years ago, and they won bronze medals this time for Women’s Nangun and Women’s Daoshu respectively. Six out of eight taolu team members managed to qualify for the 2020 Taolu World Cup with top-8 placings in at least one event. I look forward to seeing how they perform in Tokyo next year with more world-level experience under their belts.”

Leadership Reflects on the 15th World Wushu Championships

As the event wound down and athletes and teams posed for many photos, IWUF leaders also reflected on what a fine success the championships had been.

Dr. Mahdi Alinejad, IWUF Executive Board Member and President of the Iran Wushu Federation, offered his final remarks on the Championships. “I think it is a milestone in wushu in my opinion,” he noted. “It is the first time we have had 102 countries take part. And the LOC raised a substantial amount of funding with corporate sponsors. The media side is excellent, with a live broadcast and a lot of media platforms publishing news of the event. Many spectators came to watch also, and ticket sales are good here. If we follow this model it will be useful to us to promote wushu all over the world. In sanda Iran has been very strong, and I think one of the highlights of the games has been the combat from Iran and China. Another first for us is our two female sanda athletes, Shahrbano and Maryam, who have each won their fifth gold medal, as well as one of our male athletes. So I welcome them to the record hall of IWUF! Lastly, we had a lot of negotiations with our Iranian broadcaster who finally bought the rights to live stream from IWUF, and from the first day we broadcasted live 6 hours of competition on one of the main sport channels in Iran. This is fantastic for wushu, and it will for sure help us promote wushu more in Iran.”

Kim Fatt Chong, IWUF Executive Board Member and President of the Wushu Federation of Malaysia, reflected, “I’ve witnessed the development of the World Wushu Championships since Malaysia first hosted the event in 1993 in KL, and again in 2013, and I’ve seen much progress. The skill level has improved a lot, as well as the scoring system, and the organization. My dream for wushu is not just to get into the Olympics, but to have these championship events offer experiences that stay with us forever through our lives. Every two years we come home again to the IWUF. We don’t travel just to a competition, but to family. We go experience other countries. And we see a lot of young people coming up. I think IWUF has worked hard to strengthen its media, how we promote the sport, how we package and market it. Now we have lots of good sponsors, and I hope we can get more international sponsors.

Chong continued, “My wushu team has faced some problems with our new changing government in terms of support, and this affects our team. A lot of our top athletes have retired, and we are building up our team anew. They work really hard, and we prepared to fight for gold, especially pushing these past two months. We went to Fuzhou for special training, and China gives good experience for these new kids. The level of wushu around the world is really rising. There are a lot of new teams here, and other teams, like India, have developed a lot. Iran is very strong. This means we are successful for IWUF, and now wushu really belongs to the world. Even though some of our top athletes have retired, we are working hard to keep them in wushu for life, and we are training them to lead the next generation.”

Walt Missingham, IWUF Executive Board Vice President, commented, “The 15th WWC was a well run, first-class international sporting event that was both a testament and a credit to the organizational capabilities of the Chinese Wushu Association. For the Oceania Continental Federation it was particularly significant with representation from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa at the event. It was a high point to see PNG and Samoa at the WWC for the first time. The announcement of the Sanda World Cup to be held in Melbourne next year was also a great step forward for our region.”

Marcus Alves, President of the Brazilian Wushu Confederation, told us, “For me, and I believe for most people who came to this event in Shanghai, this was the biggest and best organized Wushu World Championship ever. Once again China shows to the world that it has expertise and is very well prepared for great events. The opening ceremony was a spectacle all on its own, a great show that thrilled everyone present. The competition was of high technical level and offered a high quality of organization. I congratulate the city of Shanghai, the Chinese Wushu Association represented by Mr. Zhang Qiuping, and the entire IWUF team. I am proud to be part of this movement, and to be following the growth of our sport from the beginning. Wushu is growing and consolidating as an international sport. My deepest thanks to Mr. Anthony Goh who, along with the entire IWUF team, has truly internationalized the entity, and this evolution shows that IWUF has gained a lot of experience, matured, and is prepared for greater challenges. Many positive and relevant changes have been made, and I believe everyone can see the big difference when compared to 8 years ago. I am very optimistic and confident about the future of wushu sport, and I believe that in two years we will have another beautiful event in the USA.”

Anthony Goh, Executive Vice President of the IWUF, stated at the conclusion of the championships, “This 15th World Wushu Championships has been a wonderful event that we realized here in Shanghai after many months of preparation and long efforts. The LOC and our team at the Secretariat worked extremely hard to make these championships a real success.  We tapped deeply into our experience of the past few years, and implemented what we learned from past championship management, promotion, and media, and we had the opportunity in Shanghai to really put it into practice.”

He added, “The great improvements we have made in the past few years with sponsorships has certainly helped us operate smoothly and let us focus on improving the technical and management aspects of these championships. Beyond IWUF’s sponsors, the LOC sponsors also helped us deliver superior quality with additional resources. The Secretariat team now has built up the experience to coordinate closely with local organizers, and this Shanghai LOC was meticulous and diligent in regular communications with us. I think this excellent cooperation between IWUF and the LOC helped make the level of the event extraordinary. Together we were resolved to break the record in the number of countries participating, and heighten the quality of the event all-around, including the venues, execution, and management so everything ran smoothly. Marketing, broadcasting, and insuring maximum media exposure surpassed expectations. The CWA was also instrumental and vital in contributing to the success of this event. We were, I think, able to achieve everything we worked so hard for. I’m very pleased with the outcome of this event.”

More people across the globe enjoyed the 15th World Wushu Championships than ever before, with 60,393 viewing hours on WushuTV’s livestream, and many more catching up on events on the IWUF’s Youtube channel. If you missed any of the action, tune in any time to see all the exciting events from taolu to sanda.

In Shanghai, dreams were made real, some were deferred, and others were newly kindled. As athletes, coaches, officials and friends and families left with experience and memories, friendships, photos, and medals, many plans were already undoubtedly being made for the 16th edition of the World Wushu Championships. See you in Dallas, Texas, USA in 2021!

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