Taekwondo Olympic gold medalist Arlene Limas is a Taekwondo legend.

She became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1988 and trained a young girl to fight in the Taekwondo AAU Nationals that took place July 3 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Columbus’ own Total Taekwondo student, Kylie Sepulveda beat her. Sepulveda defeated Limas’ trainee and other fighters who were trained by national and international champions on her way to winning the Olympic sparring for the 10 and 11 years-old intermediate belt girls division. This was her first time ever competing at the AAU Nationals.

“Just a medal is unheard of your first time,” Total Taekwondo Master Robert Kelley said. “But to actually take first place against that type of competition is really tough.”

Sepulveda also placed second in forms, but wasn’t the only Total Taekwondo student with a top-place finish. Montsé Valencia, who competed in the 8 and 9 years-old advanced belt girls division, placed first in forms. Six of the eight Total Taekwondo students who competed in the National tournament placed in the top three in their respective divisions.

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Fighters complete a predetermined pattern of blocks, kicks and punches during the forms competition. They don’t actually hit anybody, but are judged against other competitors’ forms. Tatum Downing finished second in the 16 and 17 year-old black belt girls division. Aldaberto Rodriguez earned second in the 14 and 15 years-old advanced belt boys division, and Alexander Kelley finished third in the 18 to 32 years-old black belt men’s division. All three of them competed in forms.

In sparring, fighters actually go head to head and score points by landing hits against each other. Rey Rodriguez walked away with a third-place finish for Olympic sparring in the 10 and 11 years-old advanced belt boys division. Sepulveda has been with Total Taekwondo for two years now, and Valencia has been a student for about three years.

Sepulveda’s father Romer Sepulveda brought her to Total Taekwondo to learn self defense, respect and discipline and said he would like it if she decided to stick with it. Valencia has a family history of Taekwondo with her father practicing since he was 7 years old. Her older brother also practices Taekwondo.

“She saw them, and she really begged for it,” Valencia’s mother Maribel Valencia said. “I was really surprised. I thought well maybe just to start, she’ll see them and figure out it’s not for her. But no, she really liked it.”

All fighters had to place high enough in the state competition in order to qualify for nationals. With this being Kylie’s first time on the national stage, both her and her dad were pretty nervous. She told Romer right before stepping on the mat that she was nervous, but that didn’t stop her from performing her best.

“Once she got in there she used the nerves to help her with the fight,” Romer said. “Nerves sometimes work for the best and bring out the best in you. I think that’s what happened with her.”

This was Montsé’s second nationals and although she still had some nerves, they were not as bad as the first time. All of the nerves began to disappear once she finally starts her routine.

“I don’t really feel that many nerves when I’m in it,” Montsé said. “When I’m about to do it, I really do feel those nerves. But when I’m out there, I’m like okay I’m calm.”

Both Kylie and Montsé plan on continuing to practice Taekwondo for years to come. Master Kelley expects Kylie to move up to the advanced division by next year which means she will be facing tougher competition than she did this year.

Master Kelley said all eight of the national tournament participants have went above and beyond participating in extra class sessions to get prepared for the competition. Many of them are already working on improving to do even better next year. The two fighters who didn’t earn a top-place finish were withing a razor’s edge of earning a medal, Kelley said. They will be looking to get over the hump in next year’s Taekwondo AAU Nationals.

Best of the best

Kylie Sepulveda

Division: 10 and 11 yeasr-old intermediate girls division for Olympic sparring and forms

Placing: National Champion in Olympic sparring; second in forms.

Monsté Valencia

Division: 8 and 9 years-old advanced belt girls division for forms

Placing: National Champion.

Aldaberto Rodriguez

Division: 14 and 15 years-old advanced belt boys division for forms

Placing: Second place.

Tatum Downing

Division: 16 and 17 years-old black belt girls division

Placing: Second place.

Rey Rodriguez

Division: 10 and 11 years-old advanced belt boys division for Olympic sparring

Placing: Third.

Alexander Kelley

Division: 18 to 32 years-old black belt men’s division for forms

Placing: Third

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Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.