National AAU Taekwondo Teams Rise to the Top
Hamburg, Germany - This year’s National AAU Taekwondo Junior and Senior Teams traveled to Hamburg, Germany on April 8th, 2014 to once again participate in the much praised German Open Taekwondo Championship hosted by the DTU. Long established as one of the premier Open Championships in all of Europe (along with the Belgium, Dutch, and Spanish Opens—all of which the AAU has supported in past years) the German Open often presents itself as one of the most competitive of all European events featuring dozens of National Teams, as well as World and Olympic Champions. This year proved no different with a total of 60 nations participating.
“As long as our financial resources are somewhat limited (in that we do not receive any financial support from any government sources like the USOC) our travel options are severely limited” says National Sport Chair Mike Friello. “Given this, we long ago decided that if we can only take these athletes on one International trip, then we might as well provide them with the very best competition available and hope for the best.”
“Our years of hard work and dedication to these outstanding young athletes have finally paid off”, quoted Mr. Friello as this year’s Junior Team captured FIRST PLACE at the 2014 German Open.
The full 20 member Junior Team along with several of our National Team members made this year’s trip supported by our four National Team Coaches, Mr. Friello, and a sizable contingent of friends, family members and even some of our Regional coaches.
The week’s festivities actually began on Thursday when the AAU Taekwondo Team, along with our full compliment of coaches, family members and friends were invited to participate in a very special function in downtown Hamburg. “Several weeks before the event, I was contacted by the DTU representatives and asked if the AAU would agree to attend a very special Welcome Reception at the German Legislation Building which would be attended by Government officials, German DTU President Park, Soo Nam and a host of other dignitaries of affiliated with the tournament, recalls AAU National Chairman Mike Friello.
“Of course I accepted and what a treat! The entire AAU delegation was just amazed with the 200+ year old building in all its’ grandeur as well as the formality behind the proceedings. And it was just for them! What a great surprise.”
This year’s team consisted of Junior Team Members: Torin Teaster, Jarol Larrondo, Charles Buset, George El-Chemali, Benjamin Snow, Dylan Dsa, Connor Wilson, Jacob Rigoli, Jonathan Healey, Brandon Ivey, Sophia Greco, Marian Prado, Michelle Gonciarz, Madison Giddens, Rachel Walsh, Ashley Warner, Cassandra Tubbs, Kendall Yount, Valerie Loureda, and Crystal Weekes. They were joined by fellow Senior Teammates: Mario Cedillo, Hama Alzouma, Alexandra Harayda, Kymberly Buset (team captain), Carly Berger, Devon Lewis, and Jacqueline Galloway. Also joining the team were 2013 team members Andrew Pluemer and Danielle Gay.
Day One, Friday, April 11th, got the team off to a great start with Jr. Males Larrondo, Teaster, and Buset as well as Jr. Females Greco, Prado, Gonciarz and Seniors Pluemer Harayda, Berger, Lewis and Gay all scheduled to compete. Team Captain Kymberly Buset was also scheduled to fight but was sidelined with a prior injury. Kymberly volunteered to make the trip none-the-less as aid to the coaching staff.
And what a great first day! The Team captured Three (3) Gold (Greco, Prado, & Gonciarz) and one (1) Bronze. Four out of five Juniors Medaled! “We were informed at the end of the day the AAU Team was in First Place overall for Gold medals with Spain and Iran having captured two each! Needless to say, we were star-struck. This year’s Junior Team Members had already surpassed last year’s performance and it was only Day 1 of 3.”
Day TWO would feature Juniors El-Chemali, Snow, Dsa, Giddens, Walsh, Warner, and Tubbs joined by Seniors Cedillo and Galloway. Could they maintain the momentum gained on Friday? Ben Snow, Casandre Tubbs, and Jackie Galloway all captured Gold Medals with El-Chemali adding a Silver! OMG—AAU Taekwondo now had six Golds, One Silver and One Bronze and continued to lead the event.
Sunday, Day Three, only added to the awards. Juniors Wilson, Rigoli, Healey, Ivey, Loureda, Yount, and Weekes would finish the day with two more Gold medals (Healey & Ivey) with Loureda adding yet another Silver Medal and Yount and Wilson accounting for two more Bronze.
When all was said and done, the AAU Team took home a total of 8 Gold, 3 Silver, and 3 Bronze—14 medals in all, at one of Europe’s toughest Open Championships. “Truly amazing,” said Mr. Friello. Overall standings for this event showed AAU Junior Team in First Place with a total of 54 points, Germany 2nd with 49 points, and Spain 3rd with 21 points. In the Senior Team standings, Iran (with just 10 players) captured First Place with 40 points. Spain, with a team of 36 seniors took Second Place with 33 points, followed by Egypt (19 team members) in Third with 18 points. No team captured more Gold than the AAU Junior Team! A full accounting of both individual and team results is available on the DTU web site.
We had high hopes for this year’s team right from the get go last September following Team Trials in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The competition at trails was just awesome and we thought then, ‘this may be our year to shine”. What followed however was beyond all expectations. Four of our National Team Members medaled at the World Championships (Healey, Ivey, Wilson, and Weekes) and one qualified for the Youth Olympic Games(Yount). When questioned in Germany as to who might be a newbie to this International environment, not one hand was raised. And the experience and dedication of these outstanding young people was demonstrated beyond a doubt.
“The successes of the National Team Members was only matched by that of the National Coaching staff”, said Mr. Friello. National Head Coach, Greg Tubbs, was joined by our long standing staff of Arlene Limas, Luciano Medina, and Georgie Martinez. “All four of these coaches have volunteered endless time—measured in years—to the success of the AAU Taekwondo Program. And nowhere else was that more self evident then at this year’s German Open. Time after time, match after match, these coaches demonstrated why they are the very best this country has to offer. Of course we missed having former national Coach Patrice Remarck along with us. He has done so much for the Program over the years, but his new position as National Head Coach for USA-Taekwondo prevents him from working with us any further. His spirit lives on with us and I’m sure he is taking as much pride in this major accomplishment as the rest of our coaching staff. Kudos also go out to AAU Regional Coaching members, Tim Tocco and Norman Snow as well as National Assistant Coach Fred Estrada who also volunteered to make the trip at their own expense to simply ‘be there’ for the team and help out in any way possible.”
“And while we are at it, let us not forget the tremendous support of all the parents of our Junior Team members who make this all possible through their unlimited support of their children. Many of these parents also made the trip to Germany in support of their children and were there with us every minute of every day rooting on our team, shopping for daily venue food and water supplies, as well as helping to keep an eye on these young charges while traveling. I had a great opportunity to spend much time with this hard core support group and I can tell you there is not a better group of people anywhere. Without their blessing and support, none of this would be possible.
Coupled with the tremendous success of our Cadet Team in Canada earlier this year (17 medals with 23 team members!), 2014 shall go down as possibly our best year ever. It will certainly be difficult to match the success of this year’s teams, but we shall continue to keep trying” says National Chair Master Friello. Hopefully this team shall serve as an inspiration to us all.
The weeklong trip was topped off on Sunday evening with a ‘private party’ for all who attended (athletes, coaches, friends and family) hosted by AAU Taekwondo. It provided a golden opportunity for Master Friello and the Coaching staff to share their emotions regarding the team and parents—a real family affair!