Top of the class / Total Taekwondo students place at AAU nationals

Columbus’ Total Taekwondo students sacrificed their entire weekends, including their 7 a.m. Sunday morning workouts, to prepare for the AAU Taekwondo Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The success they had during the Fourth of July week proved to be worth it. 

All the time spent learning proper technique and discipline instead hitting the snooze button every morning finally paid off when four of the 10 competing students placed in the top three of their respective divisions, including one national champion. Three of the four competitors won medals in their first time competing at nationals. 

Columbus East incoming junior Ethan Steinrock became a national champion in the Olympic sparring category for the boys 15-to-17-year-old age group intermediate belt division. He also placed third in forms in his first national competition and less than two years of taekwondo. 

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Total Taekwondo Master Robert Kelley said the 15-to-17 age division is the toughest age group in which to compete for sparring.

“I worked really hard for it, and I’m glad that it paid off,” Steinrock said. “Master Kelley has really put a lot of effort into training us as hard as he did, so when I went down there, I wasn’t planning on losing, and I wanted to give it my all.” 

In forms competition, fighters have to follow a set pattern of punches, kicks and blocks. The competitors are judged on their technique and intensity, along with the grace and strength of each movement. Sparring competitors actually are fighting with each other, and Olympic sparring is nonstop fighting for a set number of rounds with fighters scoring points for each blow. In point sparring, the action is stopped after each point is scored, and the first fighter to a set number of points win. 

East incoming senior Tatum Downing placed third in Olympic sparring for the girls 15-to-17 division. The black belt is the most advanced belt one can earn in Taekwondo, and Downing competed in the second-degree black belt division.

Downing fell to the same fighter that she was beaten by when she placed second in last year’s nationals. Downing suffered a concussion in her final match when she was hit with a roundhouse kick to her right temple, and she still hasn’t returned to participating in class drills. 

“Black belt division is pretty tough, especially the older you get,” Downing said. “I was expecting it to be pretty difficult this year.” 

The other black belt medal came from Parkside Elementary incoming fourth-grader Aleksander Thompson, who finished third in forms in the boys 10-to-11 year-old division. Thompson was pleased with his first national meet performance. 

“I honestly felt pretty excited when I got my third place medal,” Thompson said. “I have been doing Taekwondo for five years, and that’s a medal I’ll probably never forget.” 

Columbus North incoming freshman Rishi Rao, who placed third in the 12-to-14 division for Olympic sparring in the boys intermediate belt competition, said it was pretty nerve-racking before the fights. However, things calmed down for him once he actually stepped on the mat to start the fighting. 

“In between the fights, I was kind of nervous,” Rao said. “You could see all the other guys practicing. I was wondering, ‘How hard do they kick? How would my training work against them? But once I’m in the fight, I’m thinking about mostly just kicking them and scoring points.'” 

Many of the competitors who participated in nationals are either nursing a few nagging injuries or are dealing with fatigue of all of nationals and all of the prior preparation. That’s why Master Kelley has been tapering the training since they’ve been back from Florida and will start the usual training schedule when August rolls around. 

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Tournament: AAU Taekwondo Nationals

Number of participating students: 10

Placings: Ethan Steinrock, first in Olympic sparring, third in forms; Tatum Downing, third in Olympic sparring; Rishi Rao, third in Olympic sparing; Aleksander Thompson, third in forms