Taekwondo is an individual sport, but it doesn’t matter how much drive or talent you have, you need a team to succeed.
And everything you learn at Taekwondo, whether you are a white belt or seventh dan, will serve you the rest of your life.
Those are two of the recurring “truths” that have emerged from hours of interviews with our Sydney 2000 Olympic Games competitors, 20 years on from the time Taekwondo first became a full Olympic medal sport.
Australia’s first Olympic gold medallist Lauren Burns only recently found a photo taken by someone in the crowd, minutes after her 2000 Games semi-final victory.
It shows her with a beaming smile and her coach Jin Tae Jeong with his cheeks puffed out, ready to exhale.
It was a stark reminder that her gold medal was a team effort.
“I’m so happy because I’ve just won,” she says.
“And he is like ‘Phew, what a relief’.
“The pressure of a coach. It’s a lot. You’re all training for that one moment.
“I felt so lucky to be part of such an incredible team that was so driven and so passionate.”
Australian Taekwondo Talk tracked every living fighter from that historic event and interviewed them about that time, their lives now, and what they have learned in the 20 years in between.
You can listen to the full Sydney Olympic Commemoration series here: https://redcircle.com/shows/australian-taekwondo-talk
Every one of our representatives spoke about the importance of having a good team around you, and that those relationships are the memories that endure.
“It’s those interactions with everyone that over time cultivates you to become the person that you are and the athlete that you are,” says Sydney Silver medallist Daniel Trenton.
“It was that camaraderie that I felt which inspired me to want to be a part of it all.
“It just gave me a place to be, a place to define myself and a place that I loved to grow and be a part of.
“I had a competitive spirit, no doubt, but without that inspiring environment you have to ask the questions ‘what would have happened’.”
Fellow Sydney 2000 representative Warren Hansen agrees.
“We did some hard stuff together,” he says.
“We get closer. We bond with people and we support each other and that’s why these friendships are going to last forever.”
So, too, Sydney teammate Lisa O’Keefe.
“Even though it is somewhat of an individual sport, the team aspect is probably one of my greatest memories,” she says.
Some of our Sydney stars are still heavily involved in the sport, others have drifted away, but all have been highly successful both professionally and personally and say Taekwondo has played a crucial role.
The Taekwondo coaches, the businesspeople, the psychologist and the school teacher all agree; everything you learn in Taekwondo will serve you in the future, even if you never advance beyond a white belt.
“From being able to perform on cue, from a level of self-accountability and responsibility, it is something that does add character to a person’s personality over time,” Daniel says.
“It’s one of the reasons I opened up my centre because Taekwondo for me really did lay the foundations of good character traits that you’d want for your little nephew, your son, your daughter, anyone that you care about.
“You’d want them to embrace these character positions that set them up to be okay in life to be flexibile and resilient and adaptable and had a strong spirit.”
Lauren, who is about to complete her PhD, as well as being a speaker, mentor, Mum and more, says she is taking her Taekwondo learnings to the world.
“Being able to utilise all the things that martial arts has given me, Taekwondo has given me, being an athlete; I can share those now,” she says.
“One of the key things is being a knowledge seeker.
“For each individual person you need to be able to get the best out of yourself and so find what you need and don’t expect someone is going to hand it to you.
“You don’t have to be an expert on everything but get the right advice and be able to weigh up the options.”
So when you head to your next training session, remember the wisdom of the Olympians; everything you learn will serve your for the rest of your life, and aim high, but remember to love and appreciate those around you.