Taekwondo athletes in Nova Scotia prepare to compete in world championship

Taekwondo’s Team Canada is about to compete virtually at the ITF Online World Championship this starting this weekend, and nearly a third of the young athletes train in Nova Scotia.

"Eight of the 28 people are from training and schools in Nova Scotia," said Ken MacKenzie, a national coach who also owns a training facility in Hammonds Plains.

The large east coast contingent is a stark contrast from when MacKenzie coached 26-year-old Sean O’Neil at the World Championships in Argentina 12 years ago. Back then, there were only two athletes competing from the province.

"We've really put a lot of effort into changing that atmosphere and reputation for Nova Scotian athletes," MacKenzie said.

Sean O’Neil was 14 when he took the world title, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to change how others saw Nova Scotian athletes.

"If you see Nova Scotia in the draw, it was definitely not a situation where you think, well that's going to be the end for me," O’Neil said.

The competitor is also now a coach and hasn’t lost focus on his goal to make Nova Scotian athletes feared.

"There's all kinds of countries that when you see them across the draw you get that sinking feeling," O’Neil said.

"So I want to create that first in Canada for Nova Scotia. Then hopefully we can represent Canada to do the same thing internationally."

Clubs began to prioritize merging their efforts. About once a month the best taekwondo athletes in the province are brought together under one roof to create a more competitive training environment - and it seems to be working.

On Saturday, 15-year-old Evan Peddle joined five other athletes to put in one last practice session before the ITF Online World Championships begins.

"You really want to make sure that your techniques are good, your kicks are good, your punches are good - everything just in-line," Peddle said.

The in-person world championships were supposed to be held in Finland in October, but the pandemic pushed it 2023.

This month’s competition won’t include all of the taekwondo’s traditional events but will include patterns — a sequence of movements that can be judged on technique from afar.

MacKenzie said athletes will begin to upload their videos for the competition beginning Sunday. The winners are selected based on a judging panel of umpires from around the world and then move onto the next round.

"All the top champions from around the world are competing so it’s a very prestigious event and very excited to be able to continue to do this," MacKenzie said.