2013 USAT National Team Trials reaction

Sixteen competitors earned spots on the 2013 USA Taekwondo National Team in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 12-13 after winning their respective weight classes. Here is what they had to say after the competition:

Fin Weights:


Gregory English (Chicago, Ill.)

On what he wants to fine-tune before July’s World Championships in Puebla, Mexico

“I’m focused on winning the World Championships this year. I want to improve my skill, work on managing the ring and improve on things I learned today at Team Trials.”

On what it is like to be considered a top-16 athlete in the country

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be around these talented people. When I was younger I looked up to them, but now to be on the same team with them is an honor.”


Giuliana Gil (Camarillo, Calif.)

On finally accomplishing her goal of making the Senior National Team

“I made Junior National Team five times before and I’ve been trying to make the Senior National Team for the last three years. It’s a really big accomplishment because every time I’ve come to Team Trials I’ve fallen short. I finally stuck it through and I made it.”

On what makes this Team Trials different from the past three years

“I lost 23 pounds for this tournament, and the feeling of being pretty much the youngest and smallest one on this team and being able to do it, it’s an indescribable feeling.”


Fly Weights:


Charlotte Craig (Murrieta, Calif.)

On what this National Team bid means for her future goals

“It’s the next step for me to get to the 2016 Olympics— to go to another World Championships and bring home a medal so my weight class gets picked.”

On how she felt competing on Saturday

“I felt really on today. I felt amazing. I left everything on the mat and I think my performance showed that.”


James Howe (San Ramon, Calif.)

On ending Team Trials in title match decided in the final seconds

“I’ve been to two World Championships before so being able to make this team and get another chance at Worlds, another chance to medal, especially since our team didn’t bring home any medals last time, it means everything to me. I’m excited for the opportunity, excited to get back to work and have another shot at Worlds.”

On the dynamics of the 2013 National Team

“I think all of us have the same experience but we all bring something different to the table. I’ve been to two World Championships—quarterfinals of one and round of 16 in the other, so I’ve almost been there. I think anyone could walk away with medals this time.”


Bantam Weights:


Olie Burton (Accokeek, Md.)

On how the competition was compared to his expectations

“It was a little harder than I expected, but I imagined that I was going to win.”

On his multiple fights with Steven Thompson

“I had to beat Steven twice and went into overtime. In the first overtime he was issued a kyungo, which went well. The second time I threw a cut kick and it just so happened to hit before his punch. It was a blessing.”

On why this National Team berth is important to him

“It means everything. It’s what I’m working for and gets me closer to my goal of the 2016 Olympic Team. I need to go to Worlds and handle my business there and keep going until Rio.”


Cheyenne Lewis (Elk Grove, Calif.)

On following up her 2012 Junior Athlete of the Year award with a Senior National Team berth

“This is my biggest accomplishment in taekwondo thus far. This team really tested me mentally. I started off 1-2 and finished out 5-2 (on Saturday). It was a bit of luck but worth it in the end.”

On digging herself out of an early 1-2 hole and reaching the finals

“You come here and you know it’s going to be tough. You go up against the best competitors in the nation and you have to put it in perspective and realize you’re never out if you keep fighting.”


Feather Weights:


Terrence Jennings (Alexandria, Va.)

On having to wait all day Sunday before fighting in the final

“I just tried to stay calm throughout the morning, just watching my competition and watching these guys fight match after match. I had to stay composed throughout the day knowing that I’d have to get up for the fight. I was taking in as much information as I could for my fight later.”

On if he has a bigger target on his back now that he is an Olympic medalist

“It’s no bigger than any other time to be honest. I’ve competed for a while and all these guys I’ve competed with. We always want to compete to the highest of our abilities. I didn’t feel much more of a target, but the pressure was on to come back after a good performance at the Olympics. To come back from that and make the National Team is always a big deal.”


Nicole Palma (Lake Worth, Fla.)

Note: Palma left the competition following her feather weight victory and was unable to be reached for comment.


Light Weights:


Diana Lopez (Sugar Land, Texas)

On having all three Lopez siblings make the National Team again

“Every time it’s very exciting and very competitive. It’s something that we do enjoy as a family. We’ve been competing for a very long time and Colorado Springs is like our second home. It’s a great time for us to come together as a family.”

On having the opportunity to go back to the World Championships

“I haven’t competed at Worlds since 2007, which is a long time. In 2008 I went to the Olympics, in 2009 I hurt my knee and couldn’t make that World Championship Team and in 2011 we decided not to compete because we had another major competition to get ready to make the 2012 Olympic Team. I’m excited for this World Championships because I’m fighting in a different weight category. It’s something where I can eat whatever I want, stay hydrated and feel really good in the ring.”

Mark Lopez (Sugar Land, Texas)

On making the National Team with his brother, Steven (Note: Diana Lopez did not make the team until the next day)

“I’m just happy and it’s just an honor to make the team with my brother, Steven, again. Just making the team alone is an honor and is amazing, but to be with the greatest athlete and guy of all time, it’s special.”

On balancing competition with a full-time job

“It felt great making a National Team while being employed at UBS, especially with a lot of people doubting that now that I have a fulltime job if I was going to be able to do it again. Those things motivate me and I’m glad I was able to win again. I felt great and am looking forward to getting to another World Championships.”


Welter Weights:


Steven Lopez (Sugar Land, Texas)

On what his 20th consecutive National Team berth means to him

“It’s not that different in respects to every time I come to Team Trials, I want to be the best. It’s something self-gratifying. This is the fun part for me. The training is the difficult part.  So when I come out here is when I enjoy myself. It’s like an artist getting to paint for me. I really take joy in it, but to be able to do it since 1994— I mean I was 15 the first time I made the National Team and now I’m 34—I’m not even aware of it now. Maybe when I’m older I will sit back and look at it and think, ‘Wow, that’s pretty awesome.’ But I just like to sustain excellence and thank God that he has given me the opportunity to be healthy and to still have that motivation because that’s what it boils down to.”

On how he has been able to perform at this level for so many years

“My faith and the belief I have in myself, my coach and my training partners (is what motivates me). I have the U.S. Olympic coach as my coach every single day and I have World Champions, my sister and my brother, Pan Am Champions and Olympic medalists training with me every day. We have this culture of winning around me all the time. I think as you get older, it becomes easier because you know what it takes. The key to success is very simple but not everybody is willing to do it.”


Paige McPherson (Sturgis, S.D.)

On having an automatic bye into the welter weight final

“I had to wait all day and mentally prepare myself to just wait until 6 p.m. and then fight one to two fights. It was a long day, but at the same time I had to stay mentally strong.”

On expectations of her following a bronze medal performance at the 2012 Olympics

“I was a little nervous just because after the Olympics there was the big publicity and I was coming back to start the whole quad all over. I was definitely nervous, but of course I wanted it just as much as I wanted the gold at the Olympics. Being able to win here just proved that I have a future.”


Middle Weights:


Lauren Hamon (Jacksonville, Fla.)

On why making the National Team in 2013 is important to ultimately making it to Rio in 2016

“It means a lot, especially this being a World Championship year. I’ve been to lots of World Championships and they mean a lot. I’m ready to go and get a medal at one. It’s been my focus and goal for a long time and I’m really excited to see this dream come true this year.”

What makes this year feel different?

“I think I’ve matured a lot and taken steps in mental training—you’re not just training physically, but also mentally. I’ve added a lot to my game and have the support of my awesome husband who has been a great support system. He’s helped me a lot. He might beat me up in training every now and again, but it’s for the best.”


Jason Neville (Edmond, Okla.)

On how this National Team bid is one step closer to World Championship redemption

“This one means a lot because I have been aching to get back to Worlds after the last two. It’s definitely on my bucket list to get this thing done (World Championship) and bring home a medal.”

On how he will prepare for Worlds

“I want to just keep up with the plan. I will utilize as many of my coaches and training partners as possible. I will leave everything out there.”


Heavy Weights:


La Shondra Rawls (Clinton, Md.)

On what it was like in the closing seconds of her 7-6 victory in the heavy weight final

“I knew I had to score. I knew it was tied and I knew I had to score before overtime. I didn’t want to go into overtime. I felt pretty good today and wasn’t tired; I just didn’t want to take the chance.”

On what it feels like to finally make the U.S. National Team

“It felt overwhelming but great. I’ve been trying to do this for about 12 years now, so it’s a big moment. But it’s still more work to do. I’ll be in training on Monday.”


Abel Valdivia (Miami, Fla.)

On making his first National Team

“It means a lot to me. I’ve been dreaming about this for years and it’s coming along—it’s coming true. I’m really excited.”

On what it feels like for his dreams to come true

“It feels awesome. I’m dying to get out of here to go celebrate.”
Source: Team USA



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