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

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Anthony Cappello of St-Constant, Que., has been denied an exemption that may have allowed him to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. (Courtesy the Canadian Paralympic Committee - image credit)
Anthony Cappello of St-Constant, Que., has been denied an exemption that may have allowed him to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. (Courtesy the Canadian Paralympic Committee - image credit)

Anthony Cappello, a Canadian medal hopeful in Para taekwondo, will not qualify for the Tokyo Games despite a last-minute push for an exemption from the sport's national governing body.

Taekwondo Canada lobbied for Cappello, 30, to receive the final qualification slot in Tokyo due to unique circumstances stemming from a concussion he suffered at the Parapan Am Games in 2019.

But the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) says the final qualifying spot will go to Japan, as an automatic bid for the host country.

"We're disappointed, for sure," said Dave Harris, executive director of Taekwondo Canada.

"We'd definitely like him to have been part of the Paralympic experience."

Cappello, from St-Constant, Que., was the world's No. 3-ranked athlete in the K43, under-61 kg division in 2019, when an illegal blow to the head knocked him out of Parapan Am competition.

He was unable to compete in a subsequent Paralympic qualifying tournament, which he and his supporters saw as a relatively easy hurdle to clear for a Paralympic medal contender.

"We think he would have had all possibilities of success," Harris said.

Only the top two K43 athletes in world rankings automatically qualified for Tokyo, meaning Cappello needed to either improve his ranking or earn a spot through a qualifying tournament.

After those opportunities, only one qualification spot was still available.

Taekwondo Canada lobbied for Cappello to be considered for the final spot through a bipartite committee that has discretion to qualify athletes under unique circumstances.

Japan received the spot instead, ending Cappello's Paralympic dream for now.

'We did as much as we could'

It's a frustrating development for 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 had significant momentum before the concussion and the COVID-19 pandemic upended his plans.

"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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