Never Resting on Past Success
By Ryan Lucas
Brandon Ivey wouldn’t ever slight his own accomplishments in taekwondo.
He just draws near complacency like he does his opponents: arms up, legs spaced, feet bouncing—heel to toe, heel to toe—a fireball of controlled, calculated aggression burning in his core.
In March, Ivey became the first American since 1996 to win a gold medal at the World Junior Taekwondo Championships. One of the sport’s modern day icons, Steven Lopez, had last achieved the feat among U.S. athletes.
Ivey appreciates the rarity of his accomplishment. Unwilling to prop himself up on his laurels, however, the high school senior doesn’t seek comparisons to the lone Olympic gold medalist in American taekwondo history.
All Ivey wants is to keep moving on the rising line of progress.
“I want to make it happen in Seniors,” the Ashburn, Va., standout said earlier this month at the 2014 USA Taekwondo National Championships in San Jose, Calif. “Juniors is good, but it’s Juniors. There’s still much more I can hopefully do.
“The last one from the U.S. to win the World (Junior) Championships was Steven Lopez, and he’s done amazing things. I don’t want to be that guy who just does that at Juniors and fades out; I want to do bigger and better things.”
Ivey’s trended upward in the sport since age 7, when he and his sister, 2012 Chris Canning Award of Excellence winner Adrienne Ivey, started on a whim.
“My mom was pumping gas, and I was in the car,” he said. “My sister was like 10 or 11, and we asked my mom if we could go walk down to the complex.
“We saw this little taekwondo place and saw one of our friends come out, and then we just asked my mom if we could do that.”
For Ivey, instant success bred the drive for more and grander success. He fought in his first USAT National Championships at age 9, made his first USAT Junior National Team at age 14 and received the USAT Junior Male Athlete of the Year honor in 2013.
Then, at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Taiwan, he once again turned experience into brilliance. In all, the 6-foot, 2-inch competitor won five consecutive fights in the heavyweight division, including several in come-from-behind fashion, to claim the title.
Three years’ worth of bouts on the world’s greatest Junior stage had prepared him for the moment.
“The Junior World Championships are always competitive, and each division doesn’t have an easy fight,” Ivey said. “It was kind of hard to stay focused, so I just had to get in a zone and take in the tournament and realize where I was to really understand it.
“Most of the kids on the team are kind of younger and haven’t been to that high level of competition, so they’re kind of nervous and don’t really know the level of competition and where they’re at. I was able to go at such a young age and just observe the tournament, and then when I went back, I was just really rooted to where I was.”
Now, as he contemplates his future in academics—he’s narrowed his college choices to Cal-Berkeley, Penn, Columbia, Miami (Fla.)—he’s also trying to shift focus to the elite Senior level of taekwondo.
Ivey’s first objective is to attain a wild card in the next USAT National Senior Team Trials. From that point, he’d like to begin scrapping for points, accumulating enough to qualify for the World Taekwondo Federation Grand Prix Series, striving with an even larger aim in mind.
“Only the best of the best go there,” he said. “To be in the top 32 in the world, you have to be pretty good, and that’s the first step toward (Senior) worlds and the Olympics.
“I’m hoping to go to the Olympics in 2020. That’s my goal. There are a ton of steps before that, but hopefully I’ll get the wild card, make the world team, see how I do at worlds, go to opens, start racking up points to go to make a couple Grand Prix (events) and hopefully win one so I can be in the top eight in the world.
“Then I could go to the Grand Prix finals and be guaranteed a spot on the (Olympic) team. We’ll see. I have a long way to go, but I’m never going to give up on that dream.”