Pacific Mini Games - Jason Sam Brings Home Gold
In the months leading up to his Pacific Mini Games gold medal, Jason Sam benefitted from world-class taekwondo training at the National Taiwan Sport University (NTSU). His schedule included two-a-day training sessions that were two and a half hours each, Monday through Friday, daily match fights with other NTSU students, and regular tournaments with other schools. A team of coaches provided technical training and physical conditioning.
Of this elite training opportunity organized by the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee (MINOC) and Marshall Islands Taekwondo Federation (MITKDF) in partnership with the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, Jason said the main advantage is the ability to focus completely on his training and realizing his competition goals. However, it was personally challenging to travel alone to a foreign country where English is a second language not spoken by many, including most of his coaching team. “I quickly learned the Chinese words for ‘hurry’ and ‘do it again!’” said Jason.
“Training and keeping in shape for elite-level competition is really challenging here in the Marshall Islands,” said MITKDF President Austin Jurelang. “Taekwondo, as well as other martial arts and combat sports, is a great sport for Marshallese to pursue. MITKDF is working closely with MINOC to explore how we can obtain qualified coaches and facilities to support training locally. Until then, Jason must continue to train and compete abroad.” Jason credits his NTSU training with his outstanding Pacific Mini Games performance in Wallis and Futuna earlier this month. “I felt good,” said Jason, “less nervous and more excited.”
The taekwondo tournament took place on September 9 and 10. Other participating countries included Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Wallis and Futuna, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Guam, Tonga and Samoa.
Jason’s first fight was against Tonga. The referee was tough and Jason’s aggressiveness resulted in three points to Tonga from warnings issued to Jason rather than from contact made. As Jason forced himself to relax, the fight became progressively more exciting, drawing spectators and filling the stands. In the third round, with only 30 seconds left on the clock, the score was tied 9-9. A head kick by Tonga would have won the match, but Jason made the last two points for a final score of 11-9.
After this, Jason felt confident for his next fight against Alik Delly of Solomon Islands, who was also Jason’s roommate in the Games Village. Due to Jason’s elite training and preparation, he was familiar with Delly’s fighting style and handily won the match with a score of 4-0.
Jason’s final match, for the gold, was against Pinnie Rainner, a strong fighter from Papua New Guinea who had just defeated Tahiti in the semifinal. Jason knew he had to step up his game and started strong with a head kick in the first three seconds of the round. The move was so quick, it was missed by several of the judges. But after a protest, three points were awarded. The arena was packed with cheering fans, and he felt great support from the excited and vocal spectators. The intensity of the fight, with the gold medal on the line, was certainly felt: Jason sustained several minor injuries, including his toe, which remains numb, during the final round. Rainner was a worthy opponent with a lot of stamina who kept coming back after each hit. Jason’s technical training, physical conditioning and two head kicks during the final round, won the match, with a final score of 13-9, and secured the gold medal for the Marshall Islands.
An additional honor came during the award ceremony when Jason was named the Outstanding Male Taekwondo Athlete of the tournament. Jason considers it a great personal honor, after years of training and competing, to be recognized by the tournament officials out of a group the Pacific’s top fighters.
“I need to thank my family, MITKDF, MINOC, my coaches and sparring partners at NTSU and the many others who were key to my success,” said Jason. He hopes to represent Marshall Islands in more tournaments, and at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.