Two local martial arts champions have missed their goal of earning spots on the Junior National tae kwon do team this year, but they have not lost sight of their dream to fight in the 1996 Olympics.
Ki Ho Park of Ellicott City and teammate Eric Helms of Woodstock competed last week in a tournament in Orlando, Fla. The boys, who each have won the state tae kwon do championship three times, were part of a team competing from Nam's Tae Kwon Do in Ellicott City.
Although neither made the Junior National team, Park won a gold medal and his teammates kicked their way past more than 3,500 participants, garnering four gold and two bronze medals in the form division.
The form division consists of a choreographed routine involving various moves and is scored like a gymnastics event -- the highest score is 10.
Sparring, like boxing, involves two opponents fighting each other, but scoring blows with their feet instead of their fists. A match is three two-minute rounds.
Park, 15, won a gold medal in the form division, but lost in the quarterfinals of the sparring division. A competitor must place high in the sparring division to make the team.
"I thought I could have placed, but unfortunately I didn't," said Park. "Since I placed last year and the year before that, I was a little disappointed at losing. But it just means I'm going to have to train a little harder and focus more on winning next year."
Helms, 16, Park's friend and a fellow student at Mount Hebron High School, voiced the same optimism.
"I never expected to make it this far, but after doing well at the Senior Nationals, I got my hopes up," Helms said. "But now I've just got to keep working hard like I've been doing and eventually something will happen.
"I'm still optimistic about the Olympics though. There's still a chance."
The students, who trained under Chung K. Nam, swept through four local competitions this year and placed high in both divisions, said assistant coach Young Son. The Junior National tournament was much harder this year because of the number of participants, he said.
"They did wonderfully well for competing against so many other people though," said Son. "Master Nam has been teaching for three years and has been involved in tae kwon do for 17 years, so he is very good at what he does. Every time his students go to competitions, they usually place.
"The students show a lot of potential and besides, they have many more years to train."
Training harder is exactly what the two second-degree black belts have in mind.
"I think it might be good that I did poorly and that I learned that I can do badly," Helms said. "Because now I'm really determined to work hard. We both are determined. I don't want to be disappointed like that again."