By Rebecca Fishman of Lake-in-the-Hills, a member of the US National Karate Team in competition against the best young karate champions in the world.
The plane trip to Melbourne was long – almost 17 hours from Los Angeles after a four-hour flight to LA and a five hour layover. But in LA, all the 65 members of the US National Karate Team came together. Many of them were those I had met in Italy in 2010 when I was first on the US National Team and competed in my first world championships in Venice, Italy.
By the time we got to Melbourne, we were all tired and the jet lag had set in. But we had to weigh in that day. We got checked into our rooms and immediately had to go back down for weigh in. That's when the excitement began.
We had two days before the tournament began, and we had training as a team starting that first night. Training together as the US team is always fun.
When I got there the morning of the tournament I was nervous. I was the only team member from my dojo who was competing in a second world championships, so I was the “veteran” that everyone was looking to for advice. I was also the person answer questions about tournament expectations. It felt good to be a veteran at age 13, but that didn't change how nervous I was. I had done really well in the 2010 world championships and wanted to do as well this year, but I knew the competition had grown much tougher.
In 2010, I finished third in the world. I was pleased with that result since fighting is really my strength. I worked hard on my form for the world chairmanships in 2010 and have come a long way since then. I knew I had a good chance to medal in Australia, but really wasn't sure how I would perform since the level of competition was so much tougher than it was in 2010.
I had the second-highest score in the preliminary rounds and made it to the final round of eight. In that round, we draw numbers to see who goes first through eighth. The first athlete to perform in the final round has the toughest time, because the judges aren't quite sure what to look for, so the first athlete’s score is always a little suspicious. The judges tend to raise the scores after the first athlete. I drew the first spot, and knew it would be tough to medal going first. I was very happy with my score, but knew that it was going to be a challenge since there were a lot of good competitors after me.
The next athlete was an Australian. Three of the five judges in my ring were Australian. She scored one-tenth of a point higher than me and that immediately pushed me down to no better than a silver medal. Six athletes still to go and with the athlete I thought was going to win the tournament yet to perform. I had to sit through the other athletes performing their best katas, all trying to make it to the medal stand in the world championships. As I thought, the girl I believed would beat the Australian and me scored higher than both of us, so I was now in third place. I had to sit through a few other competitors, but was relieved when the last competitor scored lower than me. I knew I had come in third in the world, missing second place by one-tenth of a point. My goal before the tournament had been to come in second in kata, and I knew I would have to do my best to medal at all, which was my real goal. I was pleased to get third in the world, especially having gone first in the final round and having missed out but only one-tenth of a point to an Australian girl for second place. And I knew I still had a great chance to do well in fighting (kumite).
When the time came for kumite for my division, I was really psyched. This is what I trained and worked for the last few years. I wanted to show the world that my performance in 2010 was no fluke and that I really was the best fighter in the world in my age and weight categories. I fought a girl from Russia in the first round that I had fought in Italy in 2010. I fought really well and won fairly easily. The next round I thought a girl from the US that I had lost a close decision to a few weeks ago in a tournament and to whom I had never lost to previously, so I knew she had a psychological advantage. It was a good fight but fortunately I was pretty far ahead and was able to win that fight. Finally, I made it to the finals. I was fighting an Australian, the same girl who edged me out for the silver medal in form. I came out aggressively and took a pretty decent lead. When I got far enough ahead, my coach told me I should try some new maneuvers. I had always dreamed of doing a sweep takedown to win the world championship. In my age division, takedowns are pretty rare and even more so in major competitions. There were no takedowns that I remember seeing in any of the younger divisions in Italy, and there were no takedowns the day I competed in Australia. I decided to try to do a sweep takedown. I saw an opening and went for it and was able to take my opponent down and score an Ippon – a full point – which gave me the victory and the world championship. My coach jumped up and out of his chair and I could hear the US fans going crazy in the stands. It was a great moment and I was very proud. After I won the championship, I sent my personal coach, who couldn't make the trip to Australia, a video of me doing the takedown to win the championship - he had been getting updates from my parents via text the whole time I was competing - and his response was “Beautiful!” Knowing I made my coach smile was a great feeling for me.
The best moment of all came when they gave the medals out. In Italy in 2010, my age group was too young to be allowed to go up on the medal stand. In Australia, we were allowed to go on the medal stand and have our countries flags around us. When I stood on the first place stand with my country's flag around me, knowing I had again won the world championship, that made all the work, effort and sacrifice worth it. Both my parents were in the crowd and I knew how happy they were. It was a wonderful moment.
After the tournament, we were able to do some touring with the US team and then my family and three other families, including two of the athletes who are in my age group and against whom I compete, along with the families, went to Sydney and we toured together. It was great spending time away from karate with two of my friends/competitors. It'll be interesting the next time I go up against either of them since we have a different perspective on each other having spent two full weeks together and several days as friends and not as competitors.
Now that I'm back, I took a week off and I'm now back in training, getting ready for the 2013 AAU National Championships in Cincinnati at the end of June. Because I'm now older, I'm able to compete for the first time at Nationals in eight events – two weapons events, four fighting events and two form events. My goal is to medal in all eight events and win at least three gold medals. That would make a great summer.
In the fall, I'll be a freshman at Huntley High School. Karate is not a high school sport but I am hoping to be able to find time in what I'm sure will be a very busy schedule and continue to compete at a very high level in karate.