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Soldiers strike gold, two silvers at U.S. National Taekwondo Championships 090713
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PHOTO CAPTION: U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program martial artist 2nd Lt. Steven Ostrander kicks Virginia’s Mehdi Dehghani during his 14-1 victory in the heavyweight finale of the 2009 U.S. National Taekwondo Championships July 5 at the Austin Convention Center in Texas.
(Photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs)

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Soldiers strike gold, two silvers at U.S. National Taekwondo Championships 090713

By Tim Hipps
FMWRC Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – Second Lt. Steven Ostrander struck gold, and Sgts. William Rider and Louis Davis won silver medals at the 2009 U.S. National Taekwondo Championships on July 5.

Ostrander, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program martial artist from San Antonio, celebrated a homecoming of sorts by winning his third national crown before family and friends at the Austin Convention Center.

Ostrander’s mother, father, nephew and two best friends since first grade witnessed his dominating performance on the national stage.

“My friends had never seen me fight, and my parents had not seen me fight live, both of them together, since 2001,” Ostrander said. “I’ve been fighting all over the place and it’s hard to get out and see me, so being here in Austin was really a treat.”

Ostrander, however, wished one other person could have attended the tournament: 1st Lt. Amanda Ostrander, his wife, who is deployed at Camp Liberty, Iraq.

“I’m going to e-mail her as soon as I get back to my hotel room,” said Ostrander, a 2004 graduate of Texas A&M University who has a formal wedding scheduled for December, when Amanda returns from deployment. “She completely supports me and wishes she could have been here. I’m always telling my friends that this is what I do for my job, so I wanted to put on a good performance for them and just take care of business.”

Ostrander got busy in his first heavyweight match, a 12-1 victory over Jonathan Lee of New Jersey. He capped the conquest with a spin-hook kick that dropped Lee, who took a standing eight-count during the waning seconds of the bout.

“I knew that he was going to come hard,” said Ostrander, a 6-foot-2, 224-pounder. “I felt that he was coming and just went ahead and spun. In 2006, I had a knockout with a spin-hook kick. I thought I might have caught him, too, but he was a big guy and it just wasn’t hard enough.”

Ostrander received three points for the head shot and one more for the standing eight in the sport that awards three points for a kick to the head, two points for a back kick or turning behind jump kick, and one point for a regular single kick or a punch that creates tremble and shock. About 90 percent of the scoring is kick-oriented.

Tae means “to strike with the feet.” Kwon means “destroying with the hand or the fist.” Do means “way” or “method.” Taekwondo is believed to be one of the oldest Oriental arts of unarmed self-defense. In ancient times, the Korean people were forced to fight to protect or regain their independence from the Chinese, the Scytho-Siberians of Central Asia, the Mongol Hordes, the Marauders, and the armies of Japan.

“This is not a gentlemen’s sport,” understated Army WCAP Taekwondo coach David Bartlett, a four-time national champion and two-time Team USA member, who is serving as an assistant coach for the 2009-10 U.S. National Team.

Ostrander’s semifinal opponent defaulted because of injury.

“I was actually kind of disappointed about that,” Ostrander said. “Normally, my first match is my toughest because of first-fight jitters, getting warmed up, and making sure everything is ready. My second fight is usually one of my better fights, and I get stronger as the day goes on. Going into the finals, the other guy had a fight (in the semis) so he was still warm, but I had to go to the back and take care of myself. Because I was feeling really good today, I wanted to keep that up, especially with my family and friends here to see me fight.”

Ostrander did not let them down. He prevailed 14-1 over Mehdi Dehghani of Virginia in the finals.

“I came out with a job to do and the national team coach was sitting on the sidelines watching,” Ostrander said. “This year was the year to make a statement. I didn’t get picked for the Pan Am Team last September, and we went through a trial camp, just like we’re going to in January. Me and coach Bartlett talked about it earlier this week, and said, ‘Hey, this is the opportunity to make that statement so that there is no choice when that camp comes around – that their mind is made up before, saying, ‘Hey, this is the guy that we want on the team.’

“It was a challenge for myself. Going for my third national championship, I can’t go back from here, I can only go forward. Not only did I have the pressure of winning, but repeating. That’s sometimes the hardest thing to do. The first guy only scored one point, and my goal was to keep the next guy to one or less. That’s one of my strengths – to shut someone down.”

A three-time NCAA champion for the Aggies, Ostrander won senior men’s national titles in 2002 and 2008. He also won a silver medal in the 2002 Collegiate World Championships at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2005, he served as captain for the Collegiate National Team that competed in Izmir, Turkey, where he lost his first match by one point in overtime to an Iranian.

Ostrander, 26, joined the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program in August of 2006.

“WCAP gives me the opportunity to have no other worries except for training,” he said. “I want to thank the men and women who are deployed. I was thinking about that, too – being here and being able to represent them and do well for them.

“I was talking to Amanda the other day and all the people over there would love to be in our position – love to have the ability to do what we do. Just to be allowed to live the life that I want to and do what I love to do, it’s just amazing. I couldn’t ask for better support from my teammates, my coach and everybody within the program and out of the program. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

“I know that I wouldn’t have done what I did today without the help of my teammates.”

Bartlett said he “couldn’t ask for more” from Ostrander.

“He’s kind of like a teddy bear,” Bartlett said. “He doesn’t have the most intimidating look. He doesn’t have a loud and exciting personality. But when he gets out there, he knows how to flip the switch. He’s a competitor and he’s a monster. He wants to win. He wants to show everybody that they may think one thing, but he’s going to be the guy to get it done.

“He was perfect.”

Rider, a WCAP martial artist from Orangeburg, S.C., lost 5-3 in the featherweight finale to 17-year-old Jaysen Ishida of Hawaii. The score was tied at 3 in the second of three 2-minute periods, but Ishida tallied one more point in both the second and third.

“It was a good match against a tough opponent; I just didn’t dominate like I should have,” said Rider, who has competed in five national championships. “I should have drawn his shots out a little more. I felt confident going into and throughout the match. In the third round, I kind of let it get away from me and I had to play catch-up.

“I’m very disappointed – 365 days until my next chance.”

In his quarterfinal match, Rider rallied from a 5-2 deficit after two periods to defeat Colorado’s Jacob Amerman in sudden-death overtime. Rider pulled into an 8-8 tie with a kick that dropped Amerman in the waning seconds of the third period.

“I’ve trained with him before,” Rider said. “Even though I was down on points, I just had to stick to coach and mine’s plan – not look for the big shot, hit him on points to the body, and stay confident.”

In the semifinals, Rider broke a 5-5 tie by knocking out Californian Cory King with a powerful kick to the ribs with 1 minute, 3 seconds remaining in the second round.

“In my 25 years of Taekwondo, I think that’s the second time I’ve ever seen a body shot knockout, and the first from a roundhouse kick,” Bartlett said. “I have to give thanks to the strength and conditioning program of Master Sgt. Mike Mielke.”

“It was good for my first time in the medal rounds to get a knockout to get through the semis and into the final,” Rider said. “At this point, I just have to get my body healthy, get ready for the camp, and make the World Cup Team.”

“There’s a mental toughness that comes with being a national champion,” Bartlett said. “That’s where we fell short. Now the athlete has to live with that for another year. It’s a high-tension match. The superstar likes to compete in the final round – likes the spotlight. I think right now, today was a little too much for him to deal with.”

Davis, 38, of Fort Lewis, Wash., banged up his right foot, right knee and tore tendons in his left thumb before losing 3-2 to Georgia’s Curtis Barnett in the finals of the welterweight division. Competing in his eighth national championship tournament, Davis said he blocked out the pain until his day was done.

“I didn’t feel a darn thing until after the (final) match was over,” said Davis, who injured his thumb during a semifinal victory over Darrell Rydholm, a former member of WCAP. “I just chalked it up as ‘bang, I got hit.’”

The goal for Davis, a 2005 national champion, was to win another gold medal before deploying to Iraq in October.

“I did my best to follow coach’s instructions to the letter, but there is more I can do,” Davis said. “In the final, I made errors that I should not have made. I was better than the other guy, however, I just made one too many errors. I got impatient.

“I won’t make any excuses. I need to work more. There are a few things I need to tighten up. I’m too good at this sport to be dropped down by simple mistakes.”

Davis, a native of Chicago reared in Minneapolis, Minn., said this tournament was personal.

“This fight was for my 2-year-old daughter, Cecelia,” he said. “I’m hoping that she will follow in my footsteps if her mother and I don’t bump heads too much. My wife is a good woman. Even though we have our differences, she’s still been very supportive of me in this sport.”

The personal nature of Davis’ fight was multi-dimensional.

“The truth of the matter, the other part is these guys,” he said. “Fighting side-by-side with these Soldiers, that’s a great honor. Our battlefield is that mat. We’re representing every Soldier – able-bodied, wounded, people who have gone out and paid the price – that’s what we do.

“The warrior ethos is applied to the fullest in this sport. The whole thing: always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. That’s us. We comprise all of that in this game.

“We get banged up – so what? We’re still staying in.”

Even at age 38, Davis refuses to quit.

“There are other things I need to accomplish before I can walk away from this,” he said. “I tried to take 2008 off to see how retirement felt, and it drove me crazy.

“This has been one of the best years this team has had,” added Davis, who first competed at nationals in 1997. “We came together as a team on such short notice and we went out there and took care of business, period.”

Bartlett seconded that sentiment.

“We train hard,” he said. “We train to win. No excuses. Somebody’s going to get their hand raised, and why not us? Two-thousand-twelve may seem like a long time, but to make that team, you’ve got to start now.

“We’re a lot closer today than we were yesterday.”

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