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Sport Taekwondo Takes Fifth at Cornell

By Christina Park


On Saturday November 3rd, the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club sent a 26-member team to Ithaca, New York for the 14th Annual Northeast Collegiate Taekwondo Invitational hosted by Cornell University. The tournament drew competitors from 14 different schools, including Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and NYU.

MIT, the newest team in the Ivy/Northeast Taekwondo League, made up for its lack of experience with enthusiasm and heart and by showing team spirit and limitless perseverance. The final results placed MIT fifth overall, with a point total marginally behind third place Harvard and fourth place Yale.

The day opened with forms competition, in which Taekwondo students highlight the beauty of the “art” in martial arts through a choreographed set of blocks, kicks and punches. Much like in gymnastics, scoring is based not only on technical merit, but also on artistic aspects such as grace, balance, power, and agility.

Margaret H. Cho ’04 and Baochi Nguyen G nearly swept Women’s Green/Blue belt forms, placing first and third, respectively. Cho’s background as a figure skater proved to be an asset, as her flexible kicks and graceful movements scored high marks from the judges. Juan I. Rodriguez ’04 also added to MIT’s point total, taking the bronze in Men’s Green/Blue belt forms.

The women’s A team (Alice S. Chau ’04, Christina S. Park ’02) placed third overall in the black belt sparring competition. Chau confidently dominated her quarterfinal match against NYU with several kicks to the head. Park easily won the heavyweight match with a score of 8-0, advancing the team to the semi-finals. In a close match against Cornell A1, Chau lost the lightweight match by decision. Though Park knocked out the Cornell heavyweight with a turning kick to the head, the team could not advance, having forfeited the middleweight spot.

The beginner divisions followed the black belts, with the Sport Taekwondo Club’s newest members competing for the first time. The men’s C1 team (Nick Fung ’04, Joshua Neubert ’04, Vlad Gabovich G) reached the semi-finals, beating Buffalo and Temple. Gabovich anchored the C team, as his natural fighting abilities and intuition set him above the rest of the beginners. The team lost to NYU after a controversial decision. Fung and Neubert fought bravely despite injuries and exhaustion incurred during the B team competition.

The intermediate divisions were the most exciting of the day, beginning with the Women’s B1 team (Nguyen, Melissa Barbagelata G, Cho). Though it was their first tournament and they were merely green belts in a field of green, blue, and red belts, the Women’s B1 team showed no fear. Their intensity and desire to win carried them through to the finals, where they finished in second place, having eliminated Cornell B2 and Yale B1. Nguyen was not intimidated by her height difference with her opponents. Equally intense, Cho’s game face startled even her coach.

The men’s B1 team (Simon Bocanegra-Thiel ’04, Jack Kwok G, Andrew Yue ’03, Andrew Selbst ’04) faced the toughest bracket of the entire tournament, with Cornell alone fielding eight teams. Nevertheless, MIT sailed through Cornell B4 and Yale B1 to meet Temple B1 in the quarterfinal round. Yue’s consistently effective back kicks helped him prevail in his matches. He went undefeated on the day. In a hotly contested match, Kwok won the tie decision with clean points from turning kicks in the last few seconds of the second round against Temple. The decision advanced the team into the semi-finals, where they lost to the experienced Harvard B1.

“The team did a great job supporting each other throughout the tournament,” said Head Coach Dan Chuang. “The day of the competition was a very intense, exhilarating experience for the team. Sharing the stresses and feelings associated with competition really brought the team closer together and promoted a feeling of camaraderie among the club.”

The team members also expressed this sentiment. “The support of the team really means a lot to me, especially from the team leaders,” said George C. Whitfield ’03. “The fact that [they] believe in me helps me to believe in myself and pushes me harder to fulfill my potential.”

The Sport Taekwondo Club continues to train in eager anticipation for its next tournament, to be held at the University of Pennsylvania on December 1st.