Taekwondo goes international

Engineers compete at world championships in Russia

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Master Dan Chuang competes as part of the U.S. National Poomsae Team during the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships in Vladivostok, Russia.
Ty Lin

This summer, several members and instructors of the MIT Sport Taekwondo club represented the United States as part of the national team at two major competitions: the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships and the World University Games. The club members were competing in the Taekwondo discipline of poomsae, a series of choreographed moves that require power, balance, and flexibility. Poomsae is judged much in the same way that gymnastics or figure skating is scored, according to both accuracy and interpretation.

The first of the two competitions was the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships, held on July 29–31, 2011 in Vladivostok, Russia. Club instructor Rene R. Chen ’07, club alumn and co-founder Christina S. Park ’02, and head instructor Dan Chuang competed as part of the U.S. National Poomsae Team. Each qualified for the U.S. Team by placing first in their division at the U.S. National Poomsae Team Trials in Buffalo, NY in May 2011. The level of competition at the World Championships was extraordinarily high, with every country bringing well-trained and well-prepared athletes in every division.

At the event, Chen placed ninth in the world overall out of a competitive field in the Senior 1 (19–30 yrs.) female division. Chen took fifth out of 16 in her preliminary bracket, advancing to the semifinals where she placed ninth out of 16 and just missed the finals by a margin of 0.02 (out of 10). In the Team 1 (14–35 yrs.) female division, Chen, Park, and their teammate Lisa Zhou gave a very solid performance, but missed the very competitive finals (top 8) cut. In the Senior 2 (31–40 yrs.) male division, Chuang competed in a field of 31; he missed the semifinal cut by a close 0.05 margin (out of 10).

“Competing at the world championships among some of the athletes that I coach was a great experience. It was a great feeling to be an athlete again, and to represent my country in international competition. I was proud to represent both the United States and MIT,” said Chuang.

Just a few weeks following the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships, Chen competed alongside the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club’s student captain, Erika Lee ’12 at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China from August 18–23. The World University Games, also called the “Universiade,” are the collegiate Olympics, a multi-sport event featuring over 12,000 athletes from over 100 countries. Chen and Lee were accompanied by Chuang, who served as a U.S. collegiate national team coach.

Chen continued her strong performance, competing in the female individual division, and sailing through the preliminaries and advancing through the semifinals to make the top 8 competitors in the finals! A small mistake in the finals bumped her down from sixth to eighth place overall, but it was an amazing result in a very competitive field. Chen also competed in the mixed pairs division with Brandon DeSouza from UMass Lowell; they performed well, finishing 13th overall but falling shy of the finals round. The U.S. women’s team division was represented by Chen, Lee, and Carissa Fu from Princeton University. The women’s team finished ninth, just one place shy of the finals by a margin of 0.08 points.

“The Universiade at Shenzhen was a really amazing opportunity to see the state of collegiate sport Taekwondo in other countries. It was an eye-opening experience to meet athletes from such different places and backgrounds, and really inspiring to see us come together for an event that celebrates a common passion,” said Lee of her experience.

Overall, it was an amazing experience of intense training and dedication, and a summer of travels for the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club at the world level on the far side of the world. It was great inspiration to kick the competitive year off for the club, which is hosting its first tournament of the year on Oct. 22 at the Johnson Indoor Track.