Darren Rolland France moving up from Youth Championships 2016 to Elite Male 2017.

In a long day full of excitement and courage, one fight stood out as a symbol of what the IFMA muaythai journey means to athletes.

Darren Rolland from France last wore IFMA equipment at the Youth Championships in August last year. This week at the IFMA Worlds in Minsk aged just 18, he faced Kokkrachai Chotichani from Thailand in the 54kgs Elite level.

In a tough battle Roland more than held his own, pulling out all the technical stops and scoring but not enough to overcome the experience of the older boxer. The crowd – without knowing his age  – roared their approval at the end of the bout. And when the referee raised Kokkrachai’s hand, Roland fell to his knees in the traditional manner of this sport to acknowledge the learning involved in a contest like this. No doubt he will be back again next year with a gold medal in his sights.

Team Australia celebrates Luke Thompson’s win today!

There were 76 bouts across elite male, competitive male and female in two rings making for a long but exciting day for everyone involved.

In the women’s division Svetlana Vannikova, Russia pulled off a surprise victory defeating Peru’s Antonina Shevchenko, the reigning champion at 63.5kgs. She rushed straight out of the ring and over to her twin sister Ekatezina – also an athlete – for an emotional hug!

Warming up for the IFMA championships in Minsk!
Image: Lord K2 for IFMA

And for the second time this week an athlete celebrated his birthday by winning a bout! Freddy Fraken , Germany took an 86kgs bout against Belarus’ Bangura Seky, followed by a small birthday celebration.

Another upset came in the 86kgs Elite division when Canada’s Timothy Lo defeated Daniya Ssabekov from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh team had plenty of consolation claiming semi-final places across Elite and Competitive levels.

From the largest national teams like Morocco and Iran to those travelling with a few athletes in each division, each win counts and each loss burns like the end of the world.

Host nation Belarus continued to do well and continued to be well supported with a strong local media presence today adding to the buzz around the rings.

As more athletes are removed from the business-end of the tournament, this is where friendships are forged when people have more time to chat and relax with each other. And tomorrow everyone will join Belarus in celebrating Memorial Day.