Thursday, 11 April 2013

Fighting the best of the best

Fighting the best of the best
By Rob Nadler

I wish the parents of all the athletes at Authentic could have seen what Paolo and I saw over the past 12 days. We saw our kids face what was likely their greatest challenge yet. And they excelled.

On March 6, we dropped our kids off at the airport and watched them fly off to Europe as a team – not as children. They flew to Hamburg and had just one day to adjust to the new surroundings and a 6-hour time change before weigh-ins for the German Open. Jetlag and nerves led to a poor night’s sleep, with a couple of the kids getting only 90 minutes sleep before they competed.

At the German Open, Crystal was a superstar. The others all competed well, but Crystal was focused, driven and in the right mindset. She won her first match against the Netherlands before losing a great match against Belarus in the round of 16. And when each athlete’s day came to an end, they spent one-on-one time discussing their matches with Master Farah before writing detailed notes on their accomplishments and setbacks from each match.

Paolo and I then hopped on a flight to Italy to see his family and to let the kids train on their own. They had quite rigorous training sessions daily in Eindhoven, with the Netherlands national team as well as BC and Quebec teams. When we arrived in Eindhoven on Friday, they were all truly ready to compete. Master Farah took every opportunity possible over the week to share his stories, review their videos, watch other taekwondo competition videos and simply prepare them mentally for their next challenge. They learned more about competition preparation than ever before – but he also taught them some incredible life lessons.

The Dutch Open was equally as daunting as the German Open, but our athletes were much more prepared, mentally. They had seen many of the competitors in Hamburg and knew that they were not outclassed. Crystal competed on an ankle she had unfortunately rolled in training and was defeated by the French national team. Andus shined and won his first match against Denmark before losing a hard-fought, high-scoring battle against the French national team in the round of 16. Gianluca fought incredibly well in a very close defeat to Kazakhstan; I don’t think either of his European competitors ever made contact with his head! Dylan had a great day, competing in four matches over nine hours. He beat Italy, Germany and France before losing by one point in the semi-finals to the Netherlands. He won bronze and was proud to wear the Canadian flag over his shoulders on the podium.

We realized that we are at a disadvantage. The Europeans have Open tournaments monthly, where teams are well-funded and compete against competitors from every continent. While traveling abroad and facing foreign competitors is rare to us, it is a regular occurrence for them.  They are pushed to excel, and learn by fighting literally the best in the world on a frequent basis. Despite the disadvantage however, our athletes never looked out of place. They were well prepared, highly skilled and incredibly competitive. They deserved to be there.  I loved seeing that, and wish you all could have seen it as well.