Canadian Para taekwando athlete Anthony Cappello denied exemption, won’t compete in Tokyo

Anthony Cappello, a Canadian medal hopeful in Para taekwondo, has lost his bid for an exemption that might have allowed him to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Cappello, 30, from St-Constant, Que., was denied a wild card exemption to compete in the K44, under-61 kg event in Tokyo, where Canadian supporters believe he was a podium threat.

“We think he would have had all possibilities of success,” said Dave Harris, executive director of Taekwondo Canada.

“We’re disappointed, for sure. We’d definitely like him to have been part of the Paralympic experience.”

Cappello was the world’s No. 3-ranked athlete in the K43, under-61 kg division heading into the Para PanAm Games in 2019. He suffered a concussion at that tournament after another competitor illegally — but accidentally — kicked him in the head.

If not for the injury, some believe Cappello would have easily qualified for Tokyo and challenged for a medal, despite competing “up” one division.

As a K43 athlete, Cappello has a loss of function in both upper arms that is equivalent to having his limbs amputated above the elbow.

Had he qualified for Tokyo, Cappello would have competed against K44 athletes who are single-arm amputees, or who have equivalent loss of function in one arm. The K44 division is also open to athletes who have lost toes, which impacts their ability to lift their heels properly.

A majority of the 12 slots available for Tokyo were decided through world rankings and qualification tournaments, and the final slot was given to Japan as the host country.

Cappello’s supporters lobbied for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to make the slot available to other countries instead, but the request was unsuccessful.

‘We did as much as we could’

It’s frustrating for Cappello, an athlete in the prime of his career who appeared to be peaking at the right time. He won silver at the 2019 World Para Taekwondo Championships in Antalya, Turkey, and hoped it would be a prelude to a podium finish in Tokyo.

“I do believe he would have qualified,” Harris said. “It’s unfortunate.”

The decision cannot be appealed, so Cappello’s best option is to regroup for the 2024 Games in Paris.

“We did as much as we could,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”

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