Sunday, July 5, 2009

My gold medal day

I still have trouble believing those words: my gold medal. Me, a National Champion? In a sport? But all I have to do is look over on the table and see it sparkling at me to believe: I actually did it.

There were moments I wasn't sure it was going to happen. This week at Nationals started a lot like last year: I didn't perform as well as I would have liked in sparring, and ended up with a bronze. Last year I had high hopes for forms competition; I was trying this cool new form (for me), and everyone said I was doing it with lots of power. I made a couple of corrections, kept practicing, and went out and performed it without making any mistakes. When it came time for scoring, though, my marks were barely above average: 8.1s, for the most part, with a low of 7.9 meaning one judge thought I was below average. My total score was disappointing, in the low 24s, good enough for third out of four competitors.

I decided this year would be different. First of all, they changed the rules so that I only had a choice of two forms which I knew: Koryo, a first-dan form with which I've never been that comfortable (and never scored very well), and Keumgang, a second-dan form which I really enjoy, but which I'd been told never scores well because it has no kicks. (Instead it has several crane stances, which look really cool and show off your balance if done right.) Last year I didn't do Keumgang at Nationals, and ended up being outscored by someone who did do it—and not as well as I could have done it, I thought.

So this year when I started heading to several competitions, I thought I might as well try competing with it. I wasn't scoring well with other forms, so why not? And on my first try, at a competition in Milan, I won gold, for the first time since I made black belt. So I continued doing Keumgang at other tournaments, and kept getting gold medals, including one at AAU States. So I felt good about my form going into Friday's competition at Nationals. Still, I felt good last year, too, and ended up with bronze.

I didn't know how much or what kind of competition I'd have until I got to the arena. When they read off my bracket, there were five names, but only three ladies there. That didn't necessarily mean anything, because the missing ladies could have been out doing team forms. Five names means someone doesn't get a medal, but I didn't think that would happen to me. The one lady I did outscore last year was there, and I thought I could beat her again. The second didn't look super flexible (they always score well), unlike the third one, who finally showed up after competing in team forms. She looked quick ... potentially a problem. I put that out of my mind, and last year, and just thought about my own form. Finally, when they decided the fifth lady wasn't going to show, they took the four of us out to the ring. I was to compete last, which is always a good thing. Judges can hold back on scores if you go too early, so if you don't let yourself get psyched out by the competition, going last can be an advantage.

When there are more than a couple of competitors in forms, the judges always have the first three perform before they give out scores. So I sat and watched the first three perform, all doing forms I didn't recognize. The quick lady didn't look as sharp as I thought she might, and the other two were slower but had pretty good technique. They went up for their scores: quick lady didn't score well at all, getting a 24.7 total, while the second lady got a 25.3—mostly 8.4s and 8.3s, with an 8.5 in there—and the lady I beat last year got a 25.1. Then it was my turn.

I went in there and let my body take over. I have been doing this form for over three years now, so all I had to think about was making it sharp: keeping my shoulders straight, my hands tight, and landing my feet and hand techniques together. I was nervous, and felt myself quiver during the crane stances, but never let my foot drop. (Everyone says they looked solid, so it was just nerves.) I finished, then stood and awaited my scores. It started well: 8.4, then an 8.5, an 8.0 (only average?), another 8.5, and an 8.6. They throw out the high and low, so my total score was 25.4, a point better than last year.

I wasn't ready to believe it yet. Did I remember the other scores correctly? Was I right that the other girl had a 25.3? If we tied, they would throw the low scores back in; my low score was lower than hers, and that would mean silver. We lined up to bow to the judges, and they had us step forward in order. Quick lady, then last year's lady, then the third lady ... I knew I didn't finish below the other two, was it really true ... and then they pointed me into the first spot. The judge stood in front of each of them and called, "Fourth place ... third place ... second place ..." and then stood in front of me and called, "First place!" I could hear all the Olympian families in the stands behind me cheering. It was real. I won the gold.

It still feels a little surreal. I'll probably keep the medal in my gear bag for a while, just so I can remind myself, yes, you won gold at Nationals. In the meantime, I've got this photo to back me up; I think it can tell you better than I can just how great it feels to be a National Champion. And that's me, believe or not. I do.

photo by Brentwood Digital Photography


  1. Sharon BlankenshipJuly 7, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    Yahoo, Dianne. If I were you, I'd design a wardrobe around the medals. Something spandex and low-cut. I'd want those medals front and center.
    But then, having more taste, you'll probably be more subtle about it.
    Is it kosher to dangle them from your rear view mirror?
    If you're coming to Jacqui's "coming out" party tonight, can you bring the medals with you?

  2. Yes! Bring the medals! And congratulations!!!

  3. Congratulations, Diane! We should get together and celebrate your amazing achievement!