There is an outside chance – a remote possibility, a longshot – that a taekwondo Olympian will pass through Clayton this weekend. But there’s a chance nonetheless.
For the first time ever, Clayton will play host to the state USA Taekwondo national qualifier March 12 at the Clayton Community Center. The tournament is the the highest annual competition held in the state for the martial arts discipline.
Champions from this weekend will compete in July at the National Championships in Richmond, Va. From there, the top finishers in each class will compete in Colorado for a chance to make the U.S. Taekwondo team and then challenge current team members for a spot on the Olympic team. Event organizer Andy Carter, who runs a studio in Knightdale, said it was a steep uphill climb to the Games in Rio De Janeiro, but this is how it’s done.
“If someone has Olympic aspirations, they’ve got to come through us to get there,” Carter said.
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But Carter said the weekend is mostly for the best in the state to compete against one another, from 6- and 7-year-olds to those in their 60s. The event expects more than 250 competitors, he said.
“This will be the best of the best, some really high-quality fighters,” Carter said.
Organizers said they moved the event to Clayton from Greensboro because Eastern North Carolina is a big draw for the tournament. Plus, Greensboro in March has historically carried a full dance card.
“We’ve been running up against the ACC tournament,” said Yuji Smith, N.C. State Association president
Clayton Parks and Recreation Director Larry Bailey said the town is excited to host the tournament, which will be unlike any of the traditional sports tournaments Johnston County has hosted in the past.
“This is totally new to us,” Bailey said. “We haven’t hosted anything like this before, but we felt it was significant enough for us to pursue. We think it’s a good thing for the community and is something that will promote Clayton by bringing in a lot of people who maybe haven’t been to Clayton before.”
Smith said spectators can expect some exciting sparring, but said it won’t be like anything broadcast or pay per view.
“This isn’t MMA,” he said. “It’s full contact. People sometimes get knocked out or knocked down, but we haven’t had any injuries in a few years.”
Taekwondo, Smith said, distinguishes itself from many of the other martial arts by the use of kicks. The kicks, he said, are often to the body and head, and for higher scores, competitors use spinning kicks.
Carter said the physicality of the sport is often secondary for many competitors.
“I like what it stands for – respect, discipline, honor and loyalty,” he said. “It’s a major time commitment, but there’s a significant family aspect to taekwondo.”
The N.C. Taekwondo State Championship will run from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. March 12 at the Clayton Community Center. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 5 and younger.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson