USAT Annual Award Winners Announced

Dec. 16, 2009, 10:38 a.m. (ET)

Congratulations to the following individuals and clubs who were named recipients of USAT's Annual Awards. Thank you to all those who submitted nominations. 

Steven Lopez
(Sugar Land, Texas) 

Reaffirming his status as the greatest taekwondo fighter of all time, Steven Lopez became the first fighter in history to win five world championship titles when he captured the men's welterweight gold medal on October 14 at the WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Lopez, 30, won his first world championship gold medal in 2001 and has been undefeated at the biennial event ever since, winning titles again in 2003, 2005 and 2007. He has also won two Olympic gold medals (2000 & 2004) and one Olympic bronze medal (2008) in the last decade, but the world championships are often regarded as being the tougher event due to the depth of the field. It took six straight match wins (and a lost tooth) to claim this year's title. 


Danielle Pelham
(Bothell, Wash.) 

Danielle Pelham became the seventh U.S. woman to win a world championship, and just the second since 1991, when she captured the women's bantamweight title on October 16 at the WTF world taekwondo championships in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Pelham defeated Thailand's Sarita Phongsri in the finals, 5-4, pulling off the equivalent of a basketball shot at the buzzer, as she scored the decisive kick as time ran out in the third and final round. Competing in her first world championships, Pelham, 24, bested a field of 53 fighters, winning six straight matches to claim the gold medal. 


Olie Burton (Accokeek, Md.)
Jaysen Ishida (Waikele, Hawaii) 

Junior National Team members Olie Burton and Jaysen Ishida are USAT's Co-Junior Male Athletes of the Year for 2009. 

In addition to the Junior National Team, Burton also qualified for the first Youth Olympic Games team by winning the team trials in November. In fact, he was undefeated in competition during the year, winning gold medals at the U.S. Open (where he was named Best Male Junior Athlete), Maryland State Championships (both junior and senior divisions), Dutch Open, Junior Olympics and Junior Pan American Championships. 

Ishida had a similarly successful year in 2009. He captured the junior light middleweight division at the U.S. Open, outscoring his opponents 32-1; won the Junior Olympics by outscoring the opposition 59-9 and winning the tournament's Outstanding Junior Male Athlete Award; won the Junior National Team Trials by knockout; and then finished the year with a gold medal at the Junior Pan American Championships where he again outscored his opposition by a considerable margin, 18-1. 


Nicole Palma
(Lake Worth, Fla.) 

Despite moving up a weight division in 2009, Nicole Palma continued to find success on the mat throughout the year. She won a silver medal at the Dutch Open, gold at the Kissimmee National Qualifier (both junior and senior divisions), gold at the Colorado Springs National Qualifier (Jr. Light Middle), gold at the Junior Olympics and then placed first at the Junior National Team Trials. 

In November, at the Junior Pan American Championships in El Salvador, Palma was selected as team captain and then led the U.S. team to 15 total medals and the overall team title. She mowed down the opposition including a 17-0 win over Costa Rica and a knockout victory over Venezuela. For her performance she was named Best Female Athlete of the Tournament. 


Victoria Serbin
(Columbia, S.C.) 

Victoria Serbin served at numerous national and international events in 2009. She was the referee chair of the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association's National Championships and Poomsae Team Trials, as well as coordinator and instructor for three USAT poomsae seminars during the year. 

As a referee, she officiated at the U.S. Open, National Team Trials, three National Qualifiers and the Youth Olympic Games Team Trials. Serbin was recognized internationally by serving as referee at the British Open and the Russia Open, and as referee vice-chair of the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. 

She culminated the year as a WTF-appointed management official at the 4th World Poomsae Championships in Cairo, Egypt.


Brian McCutcheon
(Kaneohe, Hawaii) 

Coach Brian McCutcheon of the Oahu Taekwondo Center is the 2009 USAT Coach of the Year recipient. McCutcheon has established a training atmosphere of friendship, encouragement, positive coaching and long-term dedication toward his athletes. Through clear communication, he and his staff ensure the needs of the athlete are addressed and their personal goals in taekwondo are fulfilled. 

Each year, McCutcheon hosts 2-3 local tournaments to help further the development of taekwondo in the state of Hawaii, and continues to provide seminars and clinics for many athletes. In March of 2009, McCutcheon opened his gym to athletes from Texas where they participated in clinics and match fighting sessions with local students. 

His students also excelled in competition in 2009, capturing nine medals at the U.S. Open (3 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze), 13 medals at the Junior Olympics (6 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze) and three medals at the National Championships (2 gold, 1 silver). He placed one athlete on the Junior National Team (Jaysen Ishida) and two more on the U-24 National Team (Jarred McKee and Jayme Cajimat). Ishida was also named Outstanding Junior Athlete at the Junior Olympics and went on to win a gold medal at the Junior Pan American Championships in El Salvador. 


World Taekwondo Academy

The World Taekwondo Academy, with numerous locations in the state of Minnesota, is the 2009 USAT Club of the Year recipient. Under the guidance of Grandmaster Byung Yul Lee and Master Eui Lee, the WTA encourages a depth of commitment to the art and sport of taekwondo both with the rigors of training and with in-depth personal coaching. 

The WTA is also active in the community in a variety of influential ways. The WTA demonstration team performs at Minnesota Timberwolves professional basketball games during halftime to increase the visibility of taekwondo to the general public. The individual schools of the WTA participate in local community events at elementary schools and junior high schools, at the opening of a public library in the heart of the inner city, and at a church as part of a community "Take Back the Night" public safety event. 

The WTA has shown dedication both to outreach that promotes taekwondo and outreach that involves its students in strengthening the community in which they train. The club has also created a partner non-profit organization to provide scholarships to dedicated students who want to participate in national competition, but do not have the financial means to do so on their own.


The Thornton Family
(Bethesda, Md.) 

The Thornton family of Bethesda, Md., is this year's recipient of the USA Taekwondo Family of the Year award. The family includes Master, coach and father Charles "Chuck" Thornton and his children, Tyler "TJ" Thornton, 11, and Cheyenne Thornton, 9. 

In addition to their competitive participation in USAT events, the Thornton family volunteers their time and talents at many tournaments. In 2009, Master Thornton volunteered his services at the U.S. National Team Trials, the Buffalo National Qualifier, the Junior Olympics and the National Championships. TJ and Cheyenne also enjoy volunteering their time at USAT events once they have completed their competitions. Both children worked the Buffalo National Qualifier, the Junior Olympics and the National Championships as ring runners, holding area support and in other as-needed capacities. 

The Thornton family's support for USA Taekwondo and the Taekwondo community extends far beyond volunteer time to include financial commitments. Over the past two years, the Thornton Family Foundation made financial grants to USA Taekwondo for the purpose of supporting young athletes. Master Thornton has also contributed his time and talents to support the establishment and management of the Maryland State Taekwondo Association, which became USAT's state organization in 2009.