27 March 2024

Big start to the year for National Performance Pathways

It has been an action-packed start to 2024 for the Australian Taekwondo National Performance Pathways program and the tangible outcomes already appear promising.

Athletes kicked off the year in full force with a four-day training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Combat Centre – a multi-sport Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Canberra. The AIS National Pathways Camp (8-11 January) was one of the biggest on record attended by 77 Senior, Junior and Cadet athletes from across the country, plus a team of Pathway Coaches, Athlete Mentors and Pathway Management staff.

Coaches: Alex Sootho, Safwan Khalil, John Masielo, Jerry Moraitis, Murat Eryurek. Ruth Hock, Shane Whiteway, Larissa Markovina, Ben Hartmann, Dongmin Cha

Athlete Mentors/Training Partners: Yuting Hung, Jack Marton

Coach Education + Development: Darlene Harrison

Pathways Combat Manger: Andrew Nolen

Medical Support/Team Osteopath: Vincent Papandrea

The camp’s program focused on preparing upcoming Australian athlete talent for performance fighting internationally and had a particular focus for those athletes who were set to compete at the 2024 Canada Open and 2024 US Open Taekwondo Championships.

Pathway Coaches led four sessions a day with split groups to deliver classes on technical and current trends and scenarios and sparring, with a full fight day using the electronic Daedo and KPNP systems. On the final day of the camp the whole 77 athlete group came together to support each other in a team atmosphere and were pushed in a conditioning-based session with physical and mental endurance activities. 

Wrapping up, athletes sat in on a panel discussion with our very own distinguished guests. Paralympic bronze medal winning coach Ben Hartmann, International Grand Prix medallists and Olympic athletes Yuting Hun, Safwan Khalil and Jack Marton were on hand to share their experiences, knowledge and strategies while answering direct questions from the athletes.

In between the core Taekwondo training sessions, athletes engaged in recovery sessions at the AIS Recovery Centre using the cold plunge and whirlpool to best support their bodies to handle the heavy training load. Athlete Education sessions were delivered by AIS High Performance support staff with an Exercise Physiologist, Sport Psychologist, Sport Dietician, and Osteopath helping athletes learn practical strategies and mindfulness in how to better prepare their bodies and minds for high performance tournaments ahead. Pathway coaches also benefited from education sessions on topics such as emotional agility and how to prime for warm-up and during marshalling.

According to Performance Pathways Lead Carmen Marton, well-organised training camps like the AIS National Pathways Camp provide major benefits for the individuals involved and the wider Australian Taekwondo community – especially in the build-up to future Olympic and Paralympic Games in LA 2028 and Brisbane 2032.

“Bringing athletes together from different states around Australia is important as it allows them to develop their skill sets and fighting IQ, and push each other in a competitive, supportive and safe environment, while also building friendships with each other,” explains Marton.

“The Performance Pathways program helps athletes understand the behaviours and professionalism they need to demonstrate before we take them overseas. The goal is to empower and encourage these athletes to be ambitious and know that a life in high-performance sport can offer a wealth of experiences to enrich their lives.”

Marton has nothing but praise for the coaches, mentors and support staff who attended and contributed to the outstanding delivery of this successful training camp.

“To take time away from their work and families to give back to the sport is special because at the moment it’s the best way for us to grow and build a great cohort of athletes,” she says. 

“Everyone stepped up to the challenge, provided valuable coaching feedback, and approached the whole camp in a flexible and positive manner. There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes. That level of support is what’s going to help us deliver sustained success.”

Medals galore at Canada Open and US Open

On the back of the AIS National Pathways Camp, an impressive Pathways National Team of 54 competed and supported athletes at the Canada G2 Open 8-10 February and US G2 Open 16-18 February.

Athletes: Aiden Stilley, Amarlie Evans, Aria Crook, Atharva Pansare, Gabriella Blewitt, Jaidah Ly-Diep, Julia Mannell, Lacie Gleeson, Leonardo Angell, Leroy Morales, Luca Montone, Lucas Sabljak, Mason Harrison, Mila Clark, Omid Amini, Ruby Pappas, Tait Cushing, Valentina De Robertis, Zoe Bassiliadis, Aaron Choy, Ambrosia Landsberg, Athanasios Rodas, Baran Harman, Benjamin Camua, Corey Puopolo, Dustin Betts, Fida Matin, Giuliana Masiello, Grace Kiefer, Jamie Cefai, Jobe Stewart, John Yoo, Juliet Lahood, Luke McMahon, Olivia Roberts, Rose Abela, Saskia Medd, Seth Healy, Sofia Querubin, Syed Ayaz, Taye Ragheb, Tristan Fernandez, Zaine Mansfeild, Bianca Motta, Hannah Kiefer, Sofia Typou.

Coaches: Jerry Moraitis, Safwan Khalil, Abby Sangalang, Ben Hartmann, Shane Whiteway,Ruth Hock. Team Manager: Emilia Crook.  Sports Doctor: Dr Joseph Tamer. Team Osteopath: Vincent Papandrea

For a few of the athletes it was their first international competition, while for others it was their first time stepping into the junior or senior division. Perhaps not surprisingly to those in the know, the team enjoyed great success in terms of both performance level and medals won.

“So much was learned and the results were excellent. All the athletes fought out of their skins. We had gold medal results, silver medal results, bronze medal results, close quarterfinals and personal bests. Juniors were stepping up to the challenge and scoring points against well established and top-ranked senior World Medallists and Olympic athletes. That will give those athletes so much confidence,” Marton says.

“We also had positive results from athletes across all the states, athletes who are not part of Pathways also winning medals, and not just one or two states dominating, and that’s a great sign this far out from the LA Olympics and Brisbane Olympics. And we didn’t have any major injuries or illnesses, everyone got home safely, which is the most important thing.”

3 GOLD  Valentina De Robertis (ACT), Mila Clark (VIC), Leroy Morales (SA)
3 SILVER Zoe Bassiliadis (SA) , Gabriella Blewitt (NSW), Aiden Stilley (VIC)
6 BRONZE Ruby Pappas (VIC), Jaidah Ly- Diep (ACT), Aria Crook (SA) , Lucas Sabljak (VIC) , Atharva Pansare (NSW), Leonardo Angell (NSW)

1 GOLD  Bianca Motta (VIC)
3 BRONZE Grace Kiefer (NSW), Olivia Roberts (WA), Seth Healy (VIC)

2 GOLD: Gabriella Blewitt (NSW), Tait Cushing (QLD)
2 SILVER:  Mila Clark (VIC), Aiden Stilley (VIC)
4 BRONZE: Zoe Bassiliadis (SA), Jaidah Ly- Diep (ACT), Valentina De Robertis (ACT), Mason Harrison (VIC)

1 GOLD  Bianca Motta (VIC)
3 BRONZE Olivia Roberts (WA), Juliet Lahood (NSW)

Planning ahead at South Korea Training Camp

Another valuable Pathways Camp is planned for South Korea in April 2024. It will be held over two weeks at the Korea National Sport University (KNSU) in Seoul, one of the best university teams in Korea – with access also to the National Physical Education High School. University teams from the UK and Taiwan are also likely to attend the event.

This smaller camp is for 12 athletes who were not selected or could not attend the Canada Open and US Open, offering them a vital opportunity to prepare for either the Junior World Championships this year or Senior World Championships next year. The athletes will be supported by a crossover of five Pathways coaches and a team osteopath.

Athletes: Buse Savas, Shante Regnault, Reyna Herbertson, Chelsea Gomez, Akon Baak, Hannah Wilkinson, Asya Eryurek, Liam Egan, Alex Egan, Ryan Yoo, Jack Orchard, Joshua Lo.

Coaches: Dongmin Cha, Alex Sootho, Murat Eryurek, Larissa Markovina, Abby Sangalang. Medical Support/Team Osteopath: Bianca Scurry

“We really looked at what strategies can help those athletes in preparation for future success. We targeted athletes based on their age, experience, height, weight, and their different trajectories,” Marton says. “They will be able to mix it up in sparring and KPNP sessions with top athletes from South Korea and other countries visiting, giving our athletes the experience of the level and intensity of training that’s required to be internationally competitive.”

Strengths and opportunities for Performance Pathways

Overall, the Performance Pathways program is growing in strength from year to year and providing wonderful opportunities for Australian Taekwondo athletes as they progress to the next level. 

Domestic activities are also underway with a recent two-day Pathways Camp for Pathway Athletes and Pathway Training Partners in Queensland prior to the Sunshine Coast Open held at the end of February. Another domestic Pathways Camp is Scheduled in May before the Gold Coast Open. There are also plans this year to start integrating Tasmania as the next state in the National Pathways program.

“The main strength of Performance Pathways is bringing in athletes from across the states to train together in a higher intensity environment and especially spar together to have that variety of training partners. We want to be able to prepare athletes within Australia to a higher standard before they go overseas to give them the best chance of peaking internationally,” Marton says.

“Our challenge is that each year we need to put together a strong strategic submission as to why the government should invest in Australian Taekwondo. There is only so much we can do with limited funding compared to other sports and we need funding investment to match our rapidly growing athlete talent base so we can best service their development.

“Hopefully this year, and after the success of last year’s Cadet World Championship medallists (Akon Baak - Silver, Kerim Yilmaz - Bronze, Leonardo Angell - Bronze), we can clearly demonstrate to the AIS that the investment into our sport is providing a great return. 

Taekwondo is definitely picking up pace in this country. I think the Pathways Program can continue on this trajectory and we have a really strong chance of Australia performing in multiple divisions and coming home with multiple medals at future Olympics.”

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