Don’t let the shy smiles fool you, these girls mean business.
Just ask Bob.
Parksville Taekwondo Academy standouts Thalia Austin and Kayla Cochrane are home after a strong showing at the 2012 Canadian Junior National Championships.
Played out at Canada Place in Vancouver, the event is a showcase for the top young players in the country.
“It was tough; really tough … it’s a higher level now, but it’s still a good time though,” Cochrane answered when asked what the competition was like.
Cochrane has been with the local dojang for eight years, Austin’s six. This was Cochrane’s fifth national finals, and Austin’s third. It was the second year for both, competing in the high-stakes Jr. A (14-17 year olds) division.
The Jr. Nats, points out PTA Master Brett Fee, “brings all of the provinces’ provincial teams, from coast to coast, together to compete and determine the best fighters in the country … it’s a big event.”
Traditionally, he continued, Quebec and Ontario are the two strongest provinces in the country, but B.C. holds its own.
Much like other amateur Olympic sports, the national taekwondo championships, said Fee, “is a crucial event in determining which athletes will make the Canadian team and compete internationally for Canada.”
The two 15-year-olds spend a lot of time together and have formed one of those bonds reserved for sports. Both attend Ballenas Secondary School and both have shown the commitment to taekwondo it takes to succeed.
Like any athletes performing at a high level, both girls are clear of vision and use their goals to draw on.
Cochrane’s goal, she said, is to go to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“Just train hard in every class, and when it gets tough I just think of my goal.”
Her role model, she said, is Canadian national team member Yvette Yong, who won a bronze medal at the world championships.
“She’s really good — really fast and just amazing to watch.”
Austin said her main goal right now is to win a gold medal at the nationals.
Her role model is two-time Olympian Ivette Gonda.
“It gets harder every year,” she confirmed of the competition, “so you just have to keep improving.”
“Very impressive performances,” Fee said of his young players, both of whom showed plenty of pluck in their sparring bouts on the national stage.
Cochrane, he said, fought hard and soundly defeated the Alberta competitor by a score of 11-3, however she fell just short of the medal rounds and ended up finishing a respectable fourth.
Austin, who was sporting the remnants of a shiner on her right eye when The News caught up with her last week, earned herself a spot on the podium when she battled her way to a bronze medal in the Light Middle Weight division.
“A hard fought and well-earned medal I must say,” said Fee, then made the point the win means that Austin “is now the third-highest ranked Light Middleweight fighter in all of Canada.”
She handily defeated her Quebec opponent, but came up short against the eventual gold medalist.
“Remember,” pointed out Fee, who has competed himself at a high level for years, “that the junior nationals is not a ‘everybody gets a medal’ competition.”
“You really have to fight hard, and earn your spot on the podium, and Thalia did that.
“I am so proud of both girls I can’t even begin to explain it,” he said, adding the two trained all last year, including all through the summer, in preperation for the Jr. Nats.
“They sacrificed a lot of time, money, and energy into this, and the results are starting to pay off for them,” said Fee, adding both girls still have one more year as Junior athletes, “and I expect both of them to be on the podium for 2013.”
In the meantime, Bob the punching and kicking dummy continues to take a beating.
“Oh yeah,” Fee chuckled. “That he does.”