Quebec tae kwon do champions ready for Olympic fights in Beijing

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Sebastién Michaud and Karine Sergerie (third and fourth from left) during the Manchester, England qualifications.

For the first time since tae kwon do became an Olympic discipline at the 2000 Sydney Games, Canada will be represented in the sport by a male athlete. Sebastien Michaud from Quebec City qualified in the - 80 kg category.

Karine Sergerie from St-Catherine will join him in the -67 kg for women. She was the first Quebecer to qualify in this sport for the Olympics. Their coach, Alain Bernier, who is also the Canadian Olympic team coach, believes that sending two Quebecers to compete at this year’s games is an historic accomplishment.

The two athletes are going to compete among the 16 best in the world. “There is a drastic selection process before the Olympics,” said Bernier. “Just qualifying is already a mission accomplished.” But this first victory is not an accident.

“Sooner or later it would have happened because our athletes have been training very hard and they put on great performances throughout the past years,” said the coach and founder of the Pointe-Lévis tea kwon do club.

Bernier then addressed the question on everybody’s mind: Are Quebec’s tae kwon do competitors likely to be medal contenders? “We are ready,” he said. “We are going to the Olympics with the hope to win. My hopes are not based on theory, they are based on the performance of Sebastien and Karine in the last four years.” Bernier is very confident, but he also knows that anything can happen in sport. In tae kwon do, each fight is important.

Sports Illustrated magazine predicted a silver medal for Sergerie and a bronze for Michaud. For Bernier, this is another confirmation of a fact he already knows: Michaud and Sergerie are among the best in the world.

Michaud won the Olympic trial in Manchester in 2007 and Sergerie is the 2007 World Champion. Sergerie believes this adds a little pressure for the Olympics, but she said that for such a big event previous accomplishments don’t count.

Michaud doesn’t feel more pressure: “Being a champion gives me more confidence,” he said.

“They are very well prepared,” said Bernier. They will continue their regime of twice-daily training sessions until August 5, when they will leave for Beijing to attend the opening ceremony on August 5. They will then fly to Korea to train and return to China for the competition, which begins on August 22. “We focus on the fact that Sebastien and Karine know all the athletes they’re going to fight. We watch videos, analyze the strategies of our opponents and work on the qualities our athletes have to improve,” said Bernier.

Michaud may have to fight the American Steven Lopez, the gold medallist at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. “He is the Gretzky of tae kwon do,” said Bernier. The American did not participate in the Manchester Olympic trial, leaving Michaud to take first place. Forfeit often happens in tae kwon do, said Bernier. It is a matter of keeping a strategy secret. “He (Lopez) always fights the least possible bouts,” said Michaud. Because Michaud and Sergerie are young, Bernier prefers that his athletes fight every occasion they get in order to gain experience. “We’ll see about the forfeit strategy when they’re 30, like Lopez,” said Bernier.

Karine Sergerie knows how hard falling short of one’s goals can be. She narrowly missed qualifying for the 2004 Olympics. “The first two years were difficult. You think you’ve done everything you can and then you have to work harder to reach your dream,” she said. “But I believe this has made me more persevering.”

The tae kwon do club of Ste-Foy has organized an “Olympic Night” on August 21. Everyone is welcome at Les Compagnons de Cartier School to watch a TV broadcast of Michaud and Sergerie’s first fight in Beijing. If interested, go to 3643 avenue des Compagnons, apt. 2, starting at 7:30 p.m. (the bouts are scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m., August 22, Beijing time, which is 12 hours later than Quebec City.)