Bienvenidos a Colombia!
In 1993, I had the privilege of attending the World Taekwondo Championships in New York City as a spectator. At the time I was just a 10-year-old yellow belt who didn't really understand the significance of the phrase "World Championship" in conjunction with Taekwondo (as well as those words in the same sentence as "United States"). I knew that at the time I had never seen sparring matches so exciting or athletic, or so many rings in one stadium (Madison Square Garden). But it was an experience I will never forget for countless reasons.
It wasn't until 15 years later that I experienced another World Championships, this time in Ankara, Turkey, competing as an athlete on the National Poomsae Team. Without a doubt, that experience was the most memorable of my Taekwondo career, and one I will never forget for an entirely different set of reasons than those I remember as a spectator in 1993. From the first time you put on a national team uniform, to getting on a bus with your teammates, to having a little kid ask for a picture and your autograph, there's really nothing you can to do prepare for the thrills of the world championships.
Although I am now experiencing the world championships as a coach, and this is this fifth world championships I've attended, I'm finding that the experience is unique each and every time... and it never gets old!
This year's World Poomsae Championships in Tunja, Colombia is turning out to be quite an experience for me as well as the entire U.S. team.
Over the past three days, we have had a great balance of intense trainings, fun down time, cultural exploration, and peaceful relaxation at the beautiful hotel we're staying at in the country.
Although our bus ride to the competition venue is approximately one hour each way, you'll agree that it's worth it when I upload some photos of where we're staying.
Another wonderful experience we had today, in the final training and preparation day before competition begins, is the opening ceremony.
Although each of the previous six World Poomsae Championships featured a traditional opening ceremony during the middle of the tournament (usually at the end of the first or second day of competition), this year's opening ceremony was scheduled for the night before the first day of competition. With the exception of athletes who are competing tomorrow and wanted to rest, our entire team attended (and were glad they did!). After staging in a gymnasium, each team walked to an outdoor stadium where thousands of spectators cheered as we entered the field and were announced in a sort of parade of athletes. We waved to the crowd (which included some American flags), and then in Taekwondo fashion, the entire U.S. team lined up and bowed to the stadium before taking our place on the field. Nearly two hours of opening ceremonies and entertainment followed, which included cultural art and dance displays, a demonstration by the amazing WTF demonstration team, and a mini concert. It really seemed to be inspired by an Olympic opening ceremony, and as such had a level of energy I have never experienced at the World Poomsae Championships before. Oh and did I mention the five-minute fireworks show? Yeah!
Although most of our team members had a long day of training, and our coaching and administrative staff was busy running around Colombia doing approximately 99 different things to prepare for the first day of competition, that opening ceremony was definitely worth staying up a little late for. But now that the warm and festive welcome is over, it's time to get down to the real reason we're here: to represent our country to the best of our abilities. To compete with honor, respect, and integrity. To learn, improve, and gain experience. To maximize this World Championships experience. And of course, to eat lots of empanadas!
Before I forget, thank you to all of our friends, family, teammates, and supporters for the kind words of encouragement and support over the past few days. The internet access here is a little spotty so most of us aren't as responsive as we usually are, but I can say with certainty that we all appreciate your support very much!
Representing the United States on the first day of competition (December 6th) are:
Stephany Kim - Individual Female Under 18 years old Ryan Tucker - Individual Male Under 18 years old
Claire Kim & Jason Hwang - 2nd Pair Over 29 years old
Noreen Thackrey - Individual Female Over 59 years old
Chantha Hao - Individual Male Over 59 years old
Long Nguyen - Idividual Male Free Style Poomsae