U.S. Open Recap from CEO David Askinas

Feb. 19, 2009, 1:49 p.m. (ET)
USA Taekwondo CEO David Askinas recaps the following areas of the 2009 U.S. Open in Las Vegas: 

1. The event:

We budgeted for 1200, hoped for 1500 and were amazed that 1935 athletes and more than 500 coaches turned up to compete.  We were justifiably concerned about the faltering economy and were unsure what kind of turnout we would get.  Whether it was the lure of Las Vegas, the curiosity about the LaJust system or the institution of the new WTF ranking system, the sheer volume of athletes and coaches who registered astounded us.  Clearly a major factor was Las Vegas, its attractions and the amount of time we spent marketing the event to foreign associations and competitors.

We were boldly testing a new tournament management system and our first use of the LaJust EBP scoring system.  When the final numbers for the events started materializing in the last week we knew we had to step in and increase the number of rings.  We reconfigured the arena and squeezed 2 more rings in to make a grand total of nine rings.  We then had to recalculate the times needed to complete the day's matches.  The first day lagged because of match numbering communication issues with holding, problems reading the brackets and LaJust recycling equipment issues.  These issues were fixed and then we made the decision to reduce the round times to 1:30 instead of 2 minutes.  A match with the LaJust system will take an extra 2-3 minutes to run because of the test of the system and the hogus prior to every match.  We normally can turn over a match in 10-12 minutes but the EBP system averages about 13-15 minutes per match.

All of the equipment needs to be cleaned and dried after each match.  What we found were athletes returning very slowly back to holding, stopping to rest and talk to friends at the barriers.  We then decided to implement a plan where volunteers helped remove the equipment from the athletes and run it back to holding so it could be recycled at a faster pace.  This worked well and reduced the lag time between matches.

The LaJust system was well received overall by the coaches.  The majority of them that I spoke to said it was more accurate than referee scoring and there was no one to blame for match results.  Most also thought that there could be some improvements to the system like adding more sensors around the backside.  Backside scoring appears to have disappeared under the new system.  The comment most heard on this issue was that technology should not dictate the sport but rather that the sport dictate the technology.  The other comments were that with no body shots to score the referees were a little too liberal with head shots and body punches.  The feeling was that they had "itchy trigger fingers" that were not used to sitting idle on kicks to the body. 

Many countries sent strong national teams.  Canada, Mexico and Spain did extremely well.  The Dominican Republic, Netherlands and Australia also had strong entries.  Our U.S. fighters held their own, especially at the junior level.  Olie Burton won gold and the award for the Best Male Junior Fighter with the same skills that impressed people in Turkey at the World Junior Championships in 2008.  Kiana Lo continues to come on strong and solid performances were also turned in by junior athletes Giuliana Gil, Shaina Krause, Jaysen Ishida, David Hubbard, Christopher Smith and Tyler Phippen.

On the senior side Lauren Cahoon was impressive and was unlucky to lose in the finals in overtime on a head kick that appeared to graze the shoulder more than connect to the head.  Jason Neville did not get scored upon the entire day in winning gold and put on a truly remarkable performance stamping him as one to watch in the upcoming year. Yvette Yong, from Canada, absolutely put on a dazzling show in a Tasmanian devil, whirling dervish way.  There was little doubt she was the one of the most dynamic performers in the tournament.

Gus Villa, Steven Lin, Johhny Nguyen, Trevor Neville, Charlotte Craig and Brassie Anderson also put in impressive performances in the Senior division.

2. Special testing:

This historic event attracted over 200 applicants to test in person in Las Vegas.  In retrospect, the one negative was that we needed a bigger space and we will adjust this if there are future opportunities.  The level of instruction from the Kukkiwon seminar leaders was considered to be outstanding.  The responses to the materials and instruction presented were overwhelmingly positive. 

Some criticism was received prior to the event that Kukkiwon was just selling belts.  If you ask anyone who attended you will hear quite a different story.  The reality was that the course was rigorous and the testing anything but easy.  It was USAT's and Kukkiwon's hope that everyone would come in experienced and prepared for the test, polishing up their forms during the two-day seminar.  Unfortunately, the reality was quite different.  There were a number of Masters that were clearly in over their heads and knew they could not test at the high level required for the Kukkiwon ranks.  Some testers discovered this right away and dropped out or did not test.  Others worked long hours into the night practicing their skills while working together with their fellow applicants to improve.  The results will be learned in a few weeks.  Not everyone will pass but all will have had a great education as to what is expected from a Kukkiwon examination process. 

3. PATU Exco Meeting: 

Eleven member of the Pan American Taekwondo Union's Executive Council gathered from across the Americas to meet in Las Vegas prior to the U.S. Open to discuss issues of importance to the PATU region.   PATU Vice-President for North America David Askinas hosted the meeting and a breakfast for the attendees.  One of the major items of business was finding a new home and date for the PATU Junior Championships originally scheduled to be held in the Netherlands Antilles in the port town of Curacao. The current world economic crisis caused Curacao to pull its bid leaving PATU searching for a new host.  El Salvador, Guatemala, Uruguay and Canada have stepped up to bid, with the USA and Mexico ready to put in bids if the others do not materialize.  As we have just hosted in 2007 in Daytona Beach we were only considering a host bid for Colorado Springs in the fall if no other bid came in.