This is Australia’s greatest “Taekwon-duo”. As in, our greatest Taekwondo duo. OK forget the puns for a minute. This is Safwan Khalil and Carmen Marton. And they’re completely bloody awesome.
Carmen and Safwan are engaged to be married. But there are bigger immediate challenges, like the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The couple is part of Australia’s four-strong Rio team. The third member is Carmen’s sister Caroline Marton. The fourth is their close friend Hayder Shkara. This is one team that won’t be torn apart like the swimmers in London.
Of the four, Carmen Marton is probably our best Rio medal hope. The 29-year-old won the 2013 world championships in the lightweight division. No Aussie had ever done that before. These will be her third Olympics. Safwan is going to his second Olympics and is also regarded as a genuine medal hope.
But it’s more than their proficiency in a Korean martial art that binds this taekwon-duo (we like that word). Both Safwan and Carmen are the children of refugees. They told us about their parents’ journeys to Australia, and plenty more, when we chatted at the official team announcement this week.
Ant: OK, we ask every sportsperson this. Who would win a fight between a kangaroo and an emu?
Safwan: A kanga because he’s muscly and very explosive.
Carmen: I’d say a kangaroo as well, especially that one called like Bruce or something that’s like really built with all those chest muscles. So yeah I’d go with the kangaroos with all those muscles. [Editor’s note: he’s actually called Roger.]
Safwan: What could emus do?
Carmen: They could peck the eyes, chase ’em down.
Ant: Yeah, there’s a lot that emus could do.
Safwan: That’s my ignorance there.
Ant: No that’s not ignorant. I never tell people who kick people in the head for a living that they’re being ignorant. So here’s my next question. In 25 words or less, what actually is taekwondo? I saw Lauren Burns win a gold medal at Sydney 2000 and I still don’t know what it is.
Carmen: It’s a full contact sport which is like fencing with your feet. It’s a points scoring sport where you get more sport for kicking someone in the head than you do to the chest guard. The sport has really evolved. It’s all electronic now with electronic shields and electronic head guards.
Ant: So there’s less argument over scoring these days.
Carmen: Yep. They want it to be as objective as possible. And there are three rounds by two minutes and the person who’s got the most points is the winner at the end.
Safwan: It’s a very technical, fast, explosive, dynamic sport. You either knock your opponent out or you beat them on points.
Ant: Do you ever feel sorry for someone you’ve hurt or knocked out?
Ant: You guys are so nice, what are we going to do with you?
Safwan: [Awkward laughter]
Carmen: [Awkward laughter]
Ant: If you do judo, you’re called a judoka which is an excellent Scrabble word. If you do taekwondo, are you a taekwondoka?
Safwan: Ooh, good question.
Carmen: I know that some people do say “taekwondoa”, but we just use fighter.
Ant: So you’re fighters not lovers.
Safwan: [Awkward silence]
Carmen: [Awkward silence]
Ant: Well you’re both really, aren’t you.
Carmen: We are.
Ant: Where did you guys meet?
Safwan: We first met and spoke in 2002 at the junior world championships in Greece. We went over there and competed together. We were just young kids hanging out together in Greece, you know? And ever since then we saw each other a lot at training camps and that sort of thing.
Ant: And Safwan, did you take a liking to Carmen straight away?
Safwan: No. I was 16 at the time and I wasn’t really involved in chasing girls, I was a late bloomer.
Ant: Carmen, did you think ‘who’s this handsome devil’?
Carmen: We were definitely friends to start off with but we were just so focused on the sport. We weren’t interested in having boyfriends or griflriends. It was just about competing, getting to go overseas, that was our focus. Not a lot of teenagers are able to do that, so that’s all we wanted to do.
Safwan: I won’t lie, though. As soon as I turned about 18 or 19 I did take a liking but she didn’t like me at all, she had no interest in me.
Ant: So when did you start to warm to this tall handsome fellow, Carmen?
Carmen: I think maybe a few years after that. I always had a special spot for Safwan because he was very funny and charming and we got along quite well. It’s natural to start seeing different qualities in someone the older you get, the more you mature. I think it was when I went overseas to Poland and I was training with the Polish national team, and I didn’t know if was going to return to Australia. But being so far away from my family and the people I loved the most actually made me just want to be with them again, and one of those people was Safwan. And I got back to Australia and yeah, that’s when it started to get more serious.
Ant: You have Polish heritage, right?
Carmen: Yes, both my parents were from Poland who came to Australia as refugees post-second world war. They were able to travel out of the country only for sporting or cultural events. The were part of a traditional Polish folk dance group and they had a concert in Germany. They escaped from Germany as refugees and got visas to Australia.
Ant: Your background, Safwan?
Safwan: Both my parents are from Lebanon. In ’86, about eight months after I was born, we fled the country because of the war there. We’ve been here since 1986.
Ant: You guys are both very lithe and thin. Is that the normal build for a taekwondo fighter?
Safwan: It’s definitely evolved to be the taekwondo body shape now. The electronic scoring really makes a big difference, you find a lot of people are getting a lot taller in their divisions. The length definitely gives you an advantage, especially with the head shots.
Ant: Who’s the toughest person at home? Who wins arguments over things like domestic finances and cooking and the other little things that couples argue over?
Carmen: I win ‘cos I’m smarter so I’ve always got smarter comebacks.
Safwan: She wins ‘cos she says she wins.
Ant: OK, we’ll leave it there and let you two sort that out. Thanks for talking to Huffington Post Australia.
Safwan: Thanks Ant.