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Defia Rosmaniar looks to raise bar for Indonesian Taekwondo

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ESPN Born a Legend presented by TCL, Defia Rosmaniar (3:53)

Indonesia's first taekwondo gold medalist, Defia Rosmaniar faces her biggest adversity before the 2018 Asian Games as she learns her father has passed away. (3:53)

When Defia Rosmaniar came home from junior high school one day and told her parents she had signed up for taekwondo, they were taken aback.

Her parents did not understand why she wanted to take up taekwondo but Defia persisted. She followed her cousin to training. Fast forward 10 years and the headstrong youngster from Bogor has not only discovered her calling, she has made history.

At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, in front of a raucous home crowd that included her proud mother and Indonesian president Joko Widodo, Defia defied the odds and won gold in the women's individual poomsae event.

In the final, Defia outclassed Iran's Marjan Salahshouri, the bronze medalist at the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships in 2016 and winner of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, where Defia had taken bronze.

Defia's gold was the host nation's first of the quadrennial Games, kicking off what would be a record performance for Indonesia in the Games' 67-year history. She was the first ever Asian Games individual poomsae gold medalist, since the event was newly introduced.

And she set social media ablaze, becoming a trending topic on Twitter with local celebrities congratulating her and fans devising hashtags like #terimakasihdefia (meaning 'thank you Defia').

In a country where most kids grow up dreaming of being a badminton or football star, Defia became an unconventional national idol: a young, confident, Hijab-wearing sporting champion. President Joko tweeted: "Defia, the people of Indonesia are proud of you!"

"This medal is first for my father, my mother and my family, my coach, and my friends," Defia said at the time. "Hopefully, Indonesian Taekwondo can be more global and more advanced."

It was a bittersweet victory. Defia's father Ermanto was not there to witness it. He died five months earlier, while she was at national team training camp in South Korea.

Defia was allowed to return home for three days to grieve.

"I needed to get back to Korea as soon as possible, because I had a responsibility for the Asian Games. I had this goal for a long time," Defia said. "With self-confidence, with strong willpower, I immediately told my coach that I wanted to go back to Korea.

"I prayed to my father and I was sure he would be happy too that I was going back to Korea. I hoped that he could see me from his place when I competed at the Asian Games and that he could pray for my victory."

While no doubt talented in the sport, Defia's mental strength, persistence and tenacity are ultimately what makes her a champion.

Taekwondo initially began as a good excuse to get out of the house, but Defia quickly came to enjoy the sport.

She began watching videos of the national taekwondo team competing and became fascinated by these top exponents.

"From sleeping, eating to training patterns, I followed the ways from successful people," Defia said.

Initially Defia had practiced kyorugi, which is the sparring form of taekwondo, a fight between two exponents. But it caused Defia pain and injury, so her coach suggested she switch to poomsae instead.

Poomsae is a non-contact form of taekwondo that uses a defined movement pattern - fundamental stances, blocks, punches and kicks - arranged in a meaningful order in response to attacks from multiple imaginary assailants. To be a good poomsae athlete, one needs breathing control, balance, timing, rhythm, coordination and concentration.

In the semifinal at the Asian Games, Defia faced South Korea's Yun Ji-hye. The poomsae event involved performing two patterns each round, side-by-side with the opponent.

"My heartbeat was racing," Defia said. "I was nervous because she comes from the country where taekwondo originated, so I thought she must be better than me. But with my self-confidence and determination to win, I performed carefree and didn't overthink."

Defia came from behind to win and gained a huge confidence boost. In her mind, she knew now she could take the gold.

"For me, a legend is someone who a lot of people know and remember," she said. "To be a legend you need to have self-confidence, attitude and discipline. If you don't have three traits, you can only be an average athlete. You won't achieve great things, you'll only keep training."