16 March 2015

Taekwondo Dutch Open 2015

What a competition. What a weekend. And what an experience.

I'm only starting to digest the last couple weeks now as I have some time to settle down and reflect on the last 10 weeks, especially the last couple days leading up to the event. But I can say that the Dutch Open is one of the coolest competitions I've ever had the opportunity to compete in.

It was only a short three weeks ago that I had one of the hardest sparring sessions with my teammate James ever. He's arguably one of the fastest and strongest players I know and I struggled to cope. I managed to land 7 points and my coach told me to take away that if I can land 7 points on James I could cope with anything I would face in the Dutch Open.

Charley v Myself
So when the Predator 1 to 1 Practice day swung around and I only had my usual teammates to spar, but it was one of the best spars I've ever had against either of Kat or Charley: both games I lost by 1 point each. I know I lost, but that's the smallest losing gap I've ever had against either of them. So to me that's progress, and that's what I was going for.

It was about a week before the competition started that an upset happened: We found out that the system had switched from the Daedo electronic system to the Adidas KP&P system, none of us had the compatible foot socks, and there were none available to be ordered within the UK or Europe. Originally the travel plans were that as a team we would drive, use the Channel Tunnel, and then continue the drive through France and Belgium until we arrived in the Netherlands at the Eindhoven Sports Centrum.

There was a rumour floating around among the Taekwondo community that the new foot socks would be available on the Thursday at the venue where the vendors normally set up. Ryan and I were in a position to rearrange our schedules so that we could fly out from London Stansted Thursday morning and be in Eindhoven in time to do all the running around to purchase these electronic foot protectors. Though, I was nearly not allowed to fly because RyanAir requires that if you're not an EU passport holder you must have your ticket stamped at luggage check in.

This was only pointed out to me as I was boarding the air plane. You know, after I passed through security and had no luggage to check in. I know it was printed on the ticket itself, but you know, in the smallest font possible so as not to stand out as an important note. They did let me get on the airplane but lesson learned.

I started to feel a bit stressed the Monday before the Dutch Open. My weight went up to 66kg on Tuesday morning and my opportunities to go for a run or swim later in the week quickly diminished so I had to be super strict about my food for that week . Luckily Ryan managed to sort out the weigh in for us even though it was absolute CHAOS at the weigh-in hotel even though no KP&P foot protectors were anywhere to be seen. Despite having breakfast and weighing-in with underwear and a t-shirt on my weigh-in weight was 64.8kg.

Ryan v McD's

Didn't take Ryan and I long to find a McD's to nourish ourselves with and carry on to our hotel to crash for the night.

We were up early the next day to head back to the venue to grab the foot socks we needed. Chaos at the vendor stands as well as every team tried to get a handful of pairs for themselves. 70 Euros a pair they cost us. SEVENTY. What an enormous unplanned expense, even though we were supported financially by some very generous people in our networks.

It wasn't much longer until Mark, Charley, and Kat arrived to meet us at the Sports Centrum and bump into Levi (formerly under the tutelage of Mark and current member of the GB National Squad) and have a little catch up and just take in where we were: At the 42nd Taekwondo Dutch Open.

And take a selfie

Saturday... Saturday was everyone's big day. The draw sheets were out that morning and Charley was first up, fight 603, then Ryan 206.1, Kat 611, and myself, 614.

I hadn't felt too nervous the week leading up to the Dutch Open. I had made my peace with the knowledge that I trained as hard as could, that I managed my weight as well as I could, and moving into the -67kg division wasn't a failure, that I had made progress, not just physically but mentally too, and there was not much more I could do but just show up and go to work.

But Saturday I felt the nerves. They came and went in waves: one minute I felt fine the next my chest felt tight, especially when I watched my teammates step up to compete. I didn't know if was better to squash the thought of "I've been here before" because I had felt like this before at GB Nationals, or just let it ride out. It took all of my mental strength to focus on the idea that I was at work, this was what I was working for over the last 10 weeks, and it was time to give that presentation.

My coach Mark kept telling me that there was no pressure by the time it was my turn to step up onto the mat, but after every one of my teammates not being able to score a single point during their games, I felt some pressure. It was mostly me putting pressure on myself that I was not going to lose focus or freeze in this game, I was determined not to repeat my performance at GB Nationals.

While I didn't win, I can say I definitely performed better than in September. I lost 9-12 and I tried my hardest to reclaim that head shot I took that allowed my opponent to win, but it didn't work out. I left it all out on the mat, I did my best, and I walked away with my head held high. I've come away knowing I have a few things to work on, but also with renewed enthusiasm to do more competitions at this higher level.

Later that day after all the anxiety washed out of me I had a chance to sit back and reflect, sitting in the bleachers with my team. Being 29 at my international debut felt irrelevant because this weekend was an opportunity and experience no one will ever be able to take away from me: I traveled to the Netherlands, I participated in the same competition where world champions and Olympic medalists come to claim their own ranking points, and I got to watch some amazing Taekwondo games by these same people with my own two eyes, not just on a screen with delayed live streaming (PS. Jade Jones said hi to my coach as I stepped into the competition area, which by proxy means she said hi to me. Boom!). And it was amazing to see the speed, power, and conviction that these players embodied.

Lots of Taekwondo...
One of the most gratifying results is that I do walk away with a world ranking point and the enthusiasm to keep trying. I may be 29, but there is still some life in my legs, and I haven't achieved what I have wanted to achieve as a Taekwondo player yet before I give up competing.

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