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MIT Taekwondo Wins Tourney, Claims Top National Ranking

By Tim Kreider

CLUB PRESIDENT

The MIT Sport Taekwondo Club won first place overall at last weekend’s 29th National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) Championship in Bridgeport, CT with a team of 37 students.

The team’s dominance was nearly complete: the MIT color belts won first place by a staggering margin in the Novice Division, the MIT black belts ranked second after perennial winner UC Berkeley in the black-belt only Championship Division, and MIT took first in the combined Overall Division with a point total more than twice as large as that of the second place team.

Club splashes onto national scene

The NCTA Championship is an annual tournament that attracts athletes from Florida to Alaska. It is the equivalent of NCAA Nationals for varsity sports. (Nearly all collegiate Taekwondo programs are clubs.) Many schools compete for the NCTA team awards, which distinguish the best collegiate Taekwondo programs in the nation. The tournament also serves as a pre-qualifier for individual black belts who wish to try out for the U.S. National Collegiate Taekwondo Team, which represents the country at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Summer World University Games.

Club founder Christina Park SM ‘03 has long competed as an individual: she placed first in her division the past three years, was named Female Athlete of the Year in 2002, and fought with the U.S. Team at the FISU World Games in 2003.

This year’s NCTA Championship was the last one in which Park may compete, as athletes are eligible for up to one year after graduating from college. With the location of this year’s tournament in nearby Connecticut and the Sport Taekwondo Club’s recent recognition by MIT, Park was finally able to realize her dream of competing with an MIT team at the NCTA Championship.

Color belts lead Novice Division

The tournament featured both forms (performances of set routines) and sparring competitions. Unlike at most other tournaments the club attends, the forms competitors were divided not only by gender and belt rank, but also by weight class. MIT benefited greatly from these more specific divisions, because teammates who often compete against each other were separated. To illustrate: Stephanie K. Lee ’06, Jaime Lien ’05, and Radhika Jagannathan ’05 took first, second, and third place in the women’s lightweight red belt division. However, Grace Kim G and Margaret H. Cho ’04, also red belts, were able to win gold medals of their own in the middleweight and heavyweight divisions.

The men’s side was similar, where Michael L. Brasher G and Bobby B. Ren ’05 each won a gold medal in the middleweight and lightweight red belt divisions, respectively. In a total of 24 divisions in the forms competition, the MIT color belts captured 10 gold, 8 silver, and 4 bronze medals.

Sparring at Nationals also departed from the format familiar to club members -- featuring longer matches and more emphasis on kicks to the head -- but the MIT color belts rose to the challenge. In her first tournament sparring match ever, yellow belt EunMee Yang ‘07 gave her opponent a standing eight-count with a turning kick to the head. Blue belt Ryan B. Huang ‘06 danced around his taller opponents, barely letting a single kick land on him. Sandra M. Yu ‘06 sparred intelligently with injured ankles, drawing in her opponents and then blasting them with counter attacks.

After a long day full of stories like these, the 26 MIT color belts boasted 5 gold, 5 silver, and 12 bronze medals from the sparring competition.

Black belts qualify for Team Trials

For the forms competition in the Championship Division, black belt competitors were further divided by dan (degree) as well as weight class, which allowed MIT’s many lightweight men to avoid each other’s competition.

Lightweights Richard Sinn ’06, Nathan F. Hanagami ’04, and Timothy R. Kreider ’04 took gold medals in the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st dan categories, respectively. George C. Whitfield G, Erica Y. Chan ’07, Nancy J. Archambault G, and Park also placed in their divisions.

The most celebrated event of the tournament was the Championship Division sparring competition, which served as a qualifier for the U.S. Collegiate National Team Trials. Black belts competed in one of eight weight classes (fin, fly, bantam, feather, light, welter, middle, heavy). Whitfield drove the MIT team into a frenzy of cheering as he axe-kicked his way to a bronze medal. Chan, with a broken finger from her last tournament, soared into the finals and fought admirably against the defending champion, earning silver.

Two MIT team members were crowned as Collegiate National Champions: Archambault in women’s featherweight and Park in middleweight. Archambault had an amazing day; she pummeled her opponents mercilessly, won by large margins, and left no doubt that she deserved the gold. Park defeated her opponents first with intimidation and then with lightning-fast kicks.

Park, now a four-time collegiate national champion, will join Archambault, Whitfield, and Chan at the next Collegiate National Team Trials to fight for the right to represent the United States at the next FISU World Games in Turkey.

MIT coach honored

Master Daniel Chuang, the head instructor of the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club, was recognized for his contributions to collegiate Taekwondo with the NCTA Coach of the Year award. Chuang captained the formidable Cornell Taekwondo team while he was an undergraduate there, and he founded the MIT counterpart with Park in fall 2000. The award acknowledges both Chuang’s amazing instruction that created a national champion team in four years, as well as his devotion to serving the NCTA and Ivy/Northeast Collegiate Taekwondo League (INCTL) in multiple administrative capacities.

In addition to training students ranging from MIT beginners to national-level athletes, Chuang continues to compete nationally and internationally with training partner Chinedum Osuji PhD ’03, who will spar for Trinidad at the 2004 Olympics. Chuang also works as an electrical engineer for MIT Lincoln Labs and teaches a Sport Taekwondo PE class for MIT Athletics. He is well-loved and greatly respected by the MIT club members, who gave their loudest standing ovation of the day at the announcement of his award.

Official results of the NCTA Championship can be found at http://www.ncta-usa.com/, and a summary of MIT’s medals is at http://taekwondo.mit.edu/spotlight.html.