Jackie Galloway’s road to the Olympic Games goes through Mexico.
That road came up a bit short in 2012 when Galloway was an Olympic alternate for Mexico’s taekwondo team, but the Texan — now competing for Team USA — qualified for her first Olympic team this weekend based on her performance all season and her placement in the WTF Olympic Rankings. Galloway is the only U.S. athlete to qualify through the rankings.
The 19-year-old Galloway is eager to show her skills on the biggest stage.
“Really my goal is to win gold at the Olympics. And that’s not just my goal, that’s my plan,” Galloway said before the WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix Final in Mexico City, the last event for the Olympic Ranking.
“There’s been so much hard work and sacrifice … not only myself, but everyone else around me: my parents, everybody — it is something I couldn’t put into words how much it would mean.”
Since moving back to the United States in 2012, Galloway has established herself as one of the country’s top taekwondo athletes, especially this season. Her bronze medal at May’s world championships was one of two by U.S. athletes that ended a six-year medal drought for Team USA. Then, in July, Galloway defeated two-time Olympic medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico to win gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto.
While those results were impressive, Galloway said they don’t compare to the Olympic Games.
“It’s an event that’s on display in front of the world,” she said. “For example, the taekwondo world championships, it’s not on display for the whole world like the Olympics are. So for me, I feel just that competitive spirit, and just being able to perform in front of the entire world, because really everyone is watching.”
The taekwondo community was watching this weekend in Mexico City. Galloway came into the event ranked fourth in the plus-67 kilograms Olympic weight division. The six highest-ranked competitors in each of the four Olympic weight divisions earned berths to Rio. After finishing fourth in Mexico City, Galloway clinched one of those spots.
“This is the last major event. This is where everyone is trying to push to make it into that top six to get an Olympic spot,” Galloway said before the final.
Galloway first began practicing taekwondo at age 7 at a dojo run by her parents in Garland, Texas. When she beat the Mexican world champion at a 2010 event, the dual-citizen ended up making that country’s national team. At age 14, she was the youngest athlete in Mexico national team history.
However, after two years of living and training in Mexico City, Galloway returned to Texas — and joined Team USA — after the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Galloway, who also juggles a full-time academic load as a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Southern Methodist University, is eager to represent the United States in Rio.
“The thrill of victory in front of the whole world, I couldn’t imagine what that feeling is, but I’ve definitely seen other athletes experience it at the Olympics,” Galloway said. “It’s definitely something I look forward to.”
Although experiencing international success at a relatively young age, Galloway, who is still coached by her dad Gary Galloway, said she has worked to improve both her skills and overall athleticism.
“Even now that I’m at what I would consider a pretty high level in my sport, I always see things I need to work on and improve,” she said. “I think throughout my career in taekwondo so far, when I was younger it was more conscious decisions in terms of strategy, work on different things and techniques, and developing my game and my foundation.
“And now, it is still some of that, but I’m really trying to make improvements on strength and conditioning, and nutrition, and just really becoming a very well-rounded, strong athlete because that’s what I see as required to win the Olympics and to win at such a high level.”
Even as Galloway has thrived this season, she’s careful not to get too high on herself. That message was reinforced last month when Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo who was dominant and undefeated in the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, suffered a stunning second-round knockout loss to Holly Holm.
“It definitely reminds me that I always need to be on top of my game,” said Galloway, who in an interview earlier this year listed Rousey as the one person she’d like to have dinner with. “But also whenever I approach a match of any competitor, I understand that I can’t underestimate them, I can’t take anything for granted, because nothing’s given to me in the match.
“You have to work every single second of the match to make it happen or it’s not going to happen for me, because there’s always that whole saying: There’s always someone training harder than you, there’s someone right there ready to take it from you if you’re not going to hold on to it.”
Jim Hoehn is a Seattle-based writer who spent much of his journalism career as a sportswriter for newspapers, magazines and wire services. He also is a former editor at Rugby magazine. Hoehn is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.