Members of the USA Taekwondo Senior National Team don’t need to be reminded that a U.S. athlete has not medaled at the WTF World Taekwondo Championships since 2009.
They plan to end the drought in the upcoming 2015 World Championships, held May 12-18, in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
“Everyone who’s anyone in USA Taekwondo is very aware we’ve been shut out of the last two worlds,” heavyweight Stephen Lambdin said. “It’s been talked about a little bit, but it’s almost to the point where nothing needs to be said. We’re going there to take care of business.”
The last U.S. men’s team members to medal at worlds were Steven Lopez, who took gold in the welterweight division, and Mark Lopez, who brought home a bronze in lightweight in 2009. On the women’s team, Danielle Pelham took gold in bantamweight that same year. All-time, U.S. athletes have won a total of 79 medals at the world championships, including 13 gold.
This year’s world championships carries even greater importance in terms of the world rankings that will be so critical to earning a place in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. A gold medal will earn the winner 120 points, which could mean either leapfrogging athletes ahead in the rankings or further solidifying one’s standing.
“For me personally, I’m ranked eighth in the Olympic ranking,” said women’s middleweight Jackie Galloway. “A win at worlds would definitely push me into the top six, which would qualify for the Olympics.”
This will be Galloway’s second world championships but first with the U.S. team. Galloway first went in 2011 at the age of 15, after she became the youngest woman ever to make the Mexican national team when she was just 14 years old. With her dual citizenship, Galloway was able to take advantage of the training, competition and travel she got with Mexico, she said, but she’s now looking forward to competing for the red, white and blue.
“When I was younger I always had the goal to be on the U.S. national team,” said the 19-year-old from Wylie, Texas. “I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I got with the Mexican team, but it’s always been my dream to represent the U.S.”
National team members gathered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a brief training camp before departing for Russia, a journey expected to take two days, including layovers. With some new faces, Lambdin said, it was a good opportunity for the team to not only focus and prepare but also get to know one another better before traveling overseas.
Team members’ ages range from lightweight Kyra Potter, who is the youngest at just 16 years old, to veteran welterweight Steven Lopez at age 36. Of the 16 team members, six are teenagers. The team consists of Kelsey Junious (finweight), Charlotte Craig (flyweight), Samantha Leong (bantamweight), Cheyenne Lewis (featherweight), Potter (lightweight), Page McPherson (welterweight), Galloway (middleweight) and Lauren Hamon (heavyweight) on the women’s side, and Logan Gerick (finweight), Drew Pluemer (flyweight), Chase Graham (bantamweight), Terrence Jennings (featherweight), TJ Curry (lightweight), Lopez (welterweight), Phillip Yun (middleweight) and Lambdin (heavyweight) for the men.
“It’s definitely one of the stronger teams I’ve been part of,” said Lambdin, 27, of Rockwall, Texas. “Excluding myself, it’s a young team but really talented. It’s been a pleasure because this team is full of, although young and inexperienced, a group of professionals here to do a job. It’s one of those things where when people are focused on going out and performing to the best of their ability, you really can’t ask for more.”
In addition to wanting to put the United States back on the podium at the world championships, each team member is also hoping that it will be he or she to make it happen first.
“There was a challenge put forth at camp to see who’s going to be the first medalist,” Lambdin said. “It just fosters that nice spirit of competition among the team.”
It’s clear they don’t want to stop at just one, either.
“The last two worlds we’ve had tons of people in the quarterfinals, so many people on the brink,” Lambdin said. “Success breeds more success. All it takes is one person and it will end up being a waterfall.”