by Lisa Griffin
I hope everyone tuned into the 2012 Summer Olympics and were as amazed as I was with the spectacular talent and the level of athleticism on display. I had the great privilege to travel to London to watch and support the US Taekwondo Olympic Team, in particular, local athlete, Terrence “TJ” Jennings, in his pursuit of the gold medal in men’s featherweight (68kg/150 lbs.). I marveled at it all.
For those of you who missed the coverage, here is a short summary of the medal journey for Terrence Jennings. It was definitely not an easy start for the Alexandria, Va., native. Despite putting up a strong fight in the gladiator-like setting of the ExCel Center, Jennings lost his Olympic debut on Thursday to the No. 1-ranked competitor in the world, Turkey’s Servet Tazegul, 8-6. This was a difficult disappointment to start off the games, but Jennings remained focused and determined to chase his dreams. He then worked his way through the repechage bracket, beating Ukraine’s Hryhorii Husarov, 3-2, to get within striking distance of the bronze, where he would meet Diego Silva from Brazil. Jennings got out to an early 4-0 lead and maintained the lead late into the final round. But with 20 seconds left, Silva landed a head shot on Jennings to tie the score at 5. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Jennings made one attempt to win it– a twisting kick to the head–and did, 8-5.
The mental fortitude and indomitable spirit of 25 year-old Jennings to overcome the loss of his first round and continue to ”pursue the bronze as if it were the gold” was an impressive display of intensity and character. But it comes as no surprise…. I see it every day… the great sacrifice and work ethic of our students here at On The Mat and the local talent that trains in our facility late at night and on weekends. Whether you are in pursuit of your most fit self; mastery of a new sport; the esteemed black belt or even an Olympic gold medal, you are confronted with challenges, setbacks and even defeat. But the ability to pivot, push back and overcome is what sets you apart and makes you as much of an inspiration as our Olympic heroes.
Judging by the remarks/conversations of those present that day—a very unscientific sampling– most of the crowd had limited, if any, exposure to the electrifying sport of taekwondo. Without a doubt, they left with a new-found appreciation; taekwondo would no longer be viewed as a “marginal” sport. Indeed, The Editorial line of the Guardian newspaper read, “Britain has a new favourite sport in taekwondo.” With stellar performances from Team GB’s Jade Jones, “deliberate kicking to the head has never been more popular.” Terrence Jennings—well done—you and your peers have elevated the sport of taekwondo to a newly captive worldwide audience, and for that we are grateful.
Have you passed by this hogu that hangs in the front office of On The Mat Sports and wondered whose signature is on it???? Well, if you look closely it is that of Terrence Jennings, 2012 US Olympic Bronze Medalist…so cool.
Sherman Nelson, US Olympic TKD Coach; Master Woodson; Terrence Jennings, Olympic Bronze Medalist; and Master Smith