A select group of some of the best young taekwondo talent in Oceania tested themselves in competition at the Budo South Open held at Tauranga Boys’ College gym last weekend.
The event featured 250 athletes from around the North Island plus international teams from Australia, Tahiti and New Caledonia, under the watchful eye of Tauranga local and New Zealand United Taekwondo Association President Master Kesi O’Neill.
The NZUTA promotes the Olympic version of the Korean martial art so naturally excitement is growing with the Tokyo Olympics to be held in July next year.
Ahead of that are the Oceania Championships and Pacific Games, both to be held in Samoa, and the World Championships to follow.
Kesi is hopeful of New Zealanders qualifying for Tokyo but he says it is very difficult as so few places are available and Australia has dominant numbers and resources.
So, competing at as many tournaments as possible with qualifying points allocated, is vital for New Zealand athletes.
“We still have to do the hard yards. My daughter (Rhiannon) went to trial for the Rio Olympics and missed out by just one point,” says Kesi.
“We have another generation coming through. We are chasing those places. To compete against the best in the world is hard coming from Oceania but we try and having the right attitude is what it is all about.”
There will definitely be referees based in Tauranga officiating at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“We have three international referees and New Zealand coaches based here so we get to learn all the new rules. Every year there are changes, a bit like rugby,” Kesi added.
He is delighted with the continued progress shown by the young talent coming through his Team TKO based at Mount Maunganui.
Last month at the 2019 TNM Taekwondo Championship tournament held in Nelson Snow Oyama, Tait Oyama, Max Crozier, Ethan Turner, Chloe Turner and Sam Halinan won 12 medals between them.
Kesi says he picks a team to go to major tournaments to compete and to win medals.
“It is a bit like a north and south thing. We went there to show them what we can do. My guys from my club are training to further themselves. The next step is to go overseas with me to Australia, Pacific or Malaysia. I took them to Nelson to see if they can cope with all the pressure and something different.
“Some of them had not been to a tournament like that so it was a good education for them. I try to keep the politics involved with the sport with me and let the students focus on training.”
The tournament was open to all WT (world taekwondo) style colour belts (8th gup and above) and Black Belts.
“At elite level it is very individual and athletes have to train by themselves but having the family support is hugely important for motivation. It is a family sport. The oldest one we have at my club is 54 and we have very young ones,” says Kesi.
“The younger generation are really pushing to get into the New Zealand team to make the Oceanias, Pacific Games and Commonwealth Games and hopefully the Olympic Games.”