Lynnette Love once performed in a world of pirouettes and avant-garde music, rehearsing with the Alvin Ailey dance company in New York. Now, she competes in a sport filled with "trembling shocks," and belts to the solar plexus.
The dancer is a tae kwon do heavyweight.
"I'm addicted to this sport," Love said. "When I'm not thinking about it, I'm competing. When I'm not competing, I'm teaching."
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Love will be (( bidding for a second consecutive gold medal in tae kwon do. The martial art that was forged through centuries in Korea has again been elevated to a world level with its inclusion as a demonstration event in Barcelona.
Love, 34, is the world's top heavyweight, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound mass of long legs and muscular arms. She is an 11-time U.S. champion. She holds the first-ever Olympic demonstration gold medal, won four years ago in a hot, humid gymnasium plunked down in a teeming neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea.
But in the United States, Love and her sport are virtually unknown. Her gym, situated in the Rosecroft Shopping Center in Temple Hills, caters to 170 students, yet hasn't turned a profit in nearly three years of operation. She has pleaded for corporate support to pay her training bills and figures that by the time she returns home from Barcelona, her bank account will be empty.
"We hope to have the gym running in the black within a year," Love said. "It's a struggle."
Love endures the sacrifices because she is entranced by tae kwon do, which means the art of fighting or smashing with the foot and hand.
The sport's origins lie in Korea, where 2,000 years ago, young warriors roamed the countryside, engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
Unlike other martial arts, tae kwon do bouts are fought nearly 90 percent with the feet, not the hands. In a match, which consists of three, three-minute rounds -- the competitors kick up to 300 times each. Points are scored by a "trembling shock."
"If I hit you or jar you, that's a point," Love said. "If you don't react at all, that's not a point. You kick all of those times, you might get three points."
Love started in the sport as an 18-year-old when she wandered into a gym in her hometown of Detroit. While attending Wayne State University, she was looking for an activity to test her physical skills and keep her limber for dance.
"What I liked about it was that the instructor didn't just say, 'Come in, sign up,' " she said. "He asked, 'Do you really want to do this?' "
Love competed almost non-stop through college. When she landed in the Alvin Ailey company in New York, she continued in tae kwon do, commuting every day to Jersey City, N.J.
But it was in 1985 when she decided to drop dance and take up tae kwon do full time.
"When I heard the sport was going into the Olympics I just headed south to Washington," she said.
At Howard University, she joined a determined band of tae kwon do athletes who were preparing for the Seoul Olympics. With Debra Holloway, her training and business partner, Love earned a berth in the 1988 Games and won her medal.
With her gold medal in hand, and Holloway's silver earned in the bantamweight division, Love came home to Maryland and tried to arrange for financing of a tae kwon do studio. Initially, bankers were reluctant to provide loans. Most had never even heard of tae kwon do. But the Olympics and the medals opened doors.
The Olympics beckon again, and Love is the favorite for the gold. It's a medal she wants to win, not just for herself, but her fellow competitors. Tae kwon do is not yet on the official list of sports for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and Love said that only a strong U.S. showing in Barcelona will enable her younger teammates to compete on their home turf four years from now.
"If Korea takes the majority of the medals, people might say, 'Why would we want it in at Atlanta?,' " Love said. "We're going to have to prove we can take as many medals."
And will Love still be kicking and screaming and trying to take a gold in 1996 or 2000?
"As I get ready for these Olympics, I want to look at this as my last competition," she said. "I'd like to retire with a goal, and that goal is to win another gold."