She’s Got Next? / Downing makes national team; 12 earn taekwondo national titles

Swimmer Michael Brinegar will make history this morning when he becomes Columbus’ first athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.

Three years from now, Tatum Downing hopes to become the second.

The 20-year-old Columbus East graduate and IUPUC student recently earned a spot on the AAU Taekwondo National Point Sparring team. Downing, who trains at Total Taekwondo, also received an invitation to compete at next week’s team trials for a spot on the AAU Taekwondo National Olympic Sparring team.

“I think I’ll go and compete well,” she said. “The goal would be to be on the (Olympic sparring) team, as well, so I can be on both teams. But I know it’s not an easy thing to do.”

AAU Taekwondo considers itself the grassroots system for developing athletes for higher level competition. Athletes who make the team will work with the AAU National coaching staff in training and competition.

“I set five-year goals and 10-year goals, and my goal has been to get somebody on the national team, and I thought I was one to three years away,” said Master Robert Kelley, Downing’s coach at Total Taekwondo. “So I was really pleased and really happy to have her on the national team.”

The national Point Sparring and Olympic Sparring teams each compete in an international event every other year and have a national competition the other years. Japan, which is hosting this year’s Olympics, will host Masters competition in 2022.

Being on the national team would give Downing the best look at some of the top competitors in the nation and give her an idea of how far she would need to go to make the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“That top last level is a quantum leap,” Kelley said. “That’s a huge leap. Does she have the possibility of getting there? Yes. But it’s really hard to get to that last, final 1 percent tier. But when she goes to these competitions like U.S. Open or nationals or President’s Cup, there will be Olympic athletes there.”

Point Sparring features controlled contact, with the fight stopped after each point scored. Athletes can punch to the head and kick to the body like in karate.

Olympic Sparring is a continuous fight, usually for 90 seconds, with two or three rounds.

“I think Olympic is a little more exciting to do,” Downing said. “Point sparring can be fun, as well, but Olympic sparring, you have a lot more opportunities to score kicks.”

Downing, a business marketing and management major at IUPUC, also is working to obtain her real estate license. She has been doing taekwondo for almost 10 years and is the first athlete from Total Taekwondo to make a national team.

“I didn’t even think about it until we got (to nationals), and they said that it was happening,” Downing said. “It’s really exciting to see that my hard work has paid off the last five years or so training for national championships. It gave me a lot more confidence in fighting and competing overall.”

At the AAU Taekwondo Nationals earlier this month in Las Vegas, Downing won championships in the 18-to-32-year-old black belt female division in World Taekwondo Forms and Point Sparring. She finished second in Open Traditional Forms and TangSoDo Forms and third in Olympic Sparring.

This was Downing’s fifth year competing at nationals and her first time winning gold.

“It was kind of crazy,” Downing said. “I don’t usually get first a lot at the bigger championships, so it was really exciting to finally get it after years of training. I’m excited for next year. I know we’re doing a lot bigger tournaments. COVID slowed down a lot of the plans that we had happening, so it got pushed back a little bit.”

Downing was one of 18 athletes from Total Taekwondo to compete at nationals and one of 12 to earn national championships.

Sophie Anderson finished third in 14-15 black belt female TanSoDo Forms and in 12-14 black belt female Olympic sparring, earning a Team Trials invitation in the latter. However, she does not plan to attend this year’s trials, which are Sunday through Aug. 3 in Houston.

“We talked about it with her and her parents, and the skill level that’s really needed for that, she’s just not quite ready yet,” Kelley said. “Next year, I think she’ll be ready, but next year, when she qualifies, and I’m sure she will again, she’ll be going for that national team spot.”

Ethan Steinrock missed by one point of making the national team after winning the 18-32 black belt male Open Traditional Forms and finishing second in World Taekwondo Forms. Alexander Kelley won 18-32 black belt male Open Traditional Forms and finished second in World Taekwondo Forms.

Skyelar Ross won 14-15 black belt female World Taekwondo Forms and finished second in TangSoDo forms and third in Open Traditional Forms. Luis Valerdi won 12-13 black belt male TangSoDo Forms and took second in World Taekwondo Forms and Open Traditional Forms.

Taylor Anderson finished second in 10-11 black belt female TangSoDo Forms and third in Olympic Sparring. Izabella Ross was third in 14-15 black belt female TangSoDo Forms.

“You go into nationals as a black belt, you’re competing against the top 1 to 5 percent of athletes in taekwondo in the nation,” Master Kelley said. “These are people who live, sleep and eat taekwondo. They don’t do anything else but taekwondo.”

Twins Rendy and Wendy Zhong won national championships in the 12-13 advanced belt female category. Rendy claimed the Open Traditional Forms and Olympic Sparring and finished second in World Taekwondo Forms. Wendy won World Taekwondo Forms and took second in Olympic Sparring and third in Open Traditional Forms.

Abigail Lodhi won 10-11 advanced belt female, and Gracie Lodhi captured 8-9 advanced belt female, both in Olympic Sparring. Felix Valerdi finished second in 10-11 advanced belt male Olympic Sparring, and Hailey Harper was second in 8-9 advance belt female Olympic Sparring.

Isabella Valerdi won 8-9 intermediate belt female Open Traditional Forms and finished third in Olympic Sparring. Prisha Swain won 6-7 intermediate belt female Open Traditional Forms and took second in World Taekwondo Forms and Olympic Sparring.

Aiden Harris won the 8-9 beginner belt male Open Traditional Forms and was second in Olympic Sparring. Ava Mull finished third in 8-9 novice belt female in Olympic Sparring.

“I think we did really good, especially with everybody being restricted for training for COVID,” Master Kelley said. “Usually getting ready for nationals is a two-year trial getting ready, getting trained, getting your strength up, your cardio up, your techniques up, your kicks up, getting your mentality straight. It usually takes about two years for the kids to get ready to compete at that high of a level at nationals. With that, and then being able to compete at the level that they did, I was really happy with them.”