BY JOSH TOWNER
Six students from the Ultimate Champions Taekwondo martial arts school in Flushing qualified for the AAU national team last weekend.
The students competed for their spots on the national team in Florida from Sept. 7-9 at the AAU Sport Sparring National Championship. Three students, Jodie Gao, Michael Lantino and Matthew Mancuso qualified for the A team, while another three, Christopher Yoon, Cory Dong and Devin Lee qualified for the backup team.
There are a total of 20 spots per age group on the national team. Ultimate Champions Taekwondo has students competing with the national team in the 12-14 and 15-17 age groups. All of the students have been trained by Michael Ro, who has been running the Flushing and dojo for 12 years, Andrew Oh, who is in charge of the Bayside dojo.
Most of the students have been practicing Taekwondo since they were very young. Each member on the national team has practiced for at least 10 years. The students on the national team practice for 3-5 hours every day from Monday through Saturday. They maintain their rigorous training schedule during the school year and will also attend national team practices.
“It’s a tough balance,” said Ro. “But we make sure they keep getting good grades. That’s very important.”
The students had a strong showing in Florida. Michael Lantino, competing in the 15-17 age group, was undefeated until the championship match. Matthew Mancuso was a dark horse candidate and walked away with the championship and a spot on the 12-14 age national A team.
Jodie Gao has had an incredible run in the last two AAU Sport Sparring National Championships. In 2017, Gao won the 12-14 age group. In 2018, Gao turned 15 and moved up an age group and entered this year’s event as a heavy underdog. After dropping her first bout, Gao ran the table and won the next six straight, taking home the title for the women’s 15-17 age group and securing a spot on the A team.
“Mental toughness played a huge role,” said Master Ro, who described Gao’s performance as an “unbelievable comeback.”
In addition to spending 3-5 hours a day practicing from Monday-Saturday, Ro said, Gao is an excellent student and does volunteer work tutoring at the 109th Precinct.
The six Flushing martial artists will travel to Germany in April 2019 to compete in the German Open, their first major competition as part of the national team.