Ryan Poirier fires off quick combination kicks, right-left, right-left, smacking a handheld padded target hard for a Times video shoot.
The 11-year-old from the Woo Kim Langley Taekwondo School is one of four martial artists from the local club who will be competing in the 2017 U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada at the end of the month.
“We trained for quite a bit, so we’ve got a good chance,” Poirier says.
Teammate Zakary Kotzer, 16, is equally optimistic.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good shot,” Kotzer says, then proceeds to hammer the same target hard with looping kicks that start near the floor.
Kotzer has been studying Taekwondo for 12 years.
“What draws me to it is the competition and the energy that you get from just being in the ring and going at it,” Kotzer says.
Teammate Shijia Huang, 16, couldn’t agree more.
“I’m most interested in sparring,” Huang says.
She kicks higher than her head, hitting the target with her foot as it descends.
Younger sister Chutong Huang, 13, has the confidence that comes with winning gold in the female cadet (33 to 37 kg) division at the 2016 Canadian National Taekwondo championships.
“I can kick anything,” she says, smiling, and keeps smiling as she spins, quick and precise, hitting the target dead centre each time.
School head master Gary McLaughlin, the man holding the target, says the four are “amazing athletes.”
“They worked very hard for years and years preparing for this one event,” McLaughlin says.
“Its one of the most prestigious events of the year. It will have the most black belts. More than (the) world championships, more than the Olympics. It’ll have pretty much every country in the world.”
The four Woo Kim competitors, all black belts, posted strong performances at the Canadian championships last year as part of the 52-person contingent for Team BC.
In addition to Chutong Huang’s gold medal, her sister Shijia won bronze in the junior female (49 to 52 kg) division, Poirier took silver in the youth male (40+ kg) category and Kotzer placed fifth in the junior male (63 to 68 kg) division.
Hundreds of martial artists are expected to attend the Vegas event, which will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
At the 2016 U.S. Open in Reno, there were 1618 competitors.