SIX Clare competitors returned home from the World Tae kwon do Championships in Argentina with a hugely impressive haul of 11 medals, the best ever Irish performance at world level.
The team took home two golds, three silver and six bronze medals, with Kilkishen teenager, Louise McCagh securing five of these accolades.
Louise, aged 17, led the charge for the Irish with the first medal of the championships; a bronze in individual Second Dan patterns. This was to prove only the first in a series of successes as Louise claimed the silver in sparring, bronze in power-breaking, silver in special technique and bronze with the junior female team in patterns. Her outstanding achievement is that she has won the most individual medals by an Irish competitor at this level.
The male team pattern, which featured Clare competitors Adrian Byrne, Stephen Ryan, Jamie Rigney and Daniel Dillon, followed up their gold medal performance in the European championships earlier this year with a bronze medal.
David Lynch, from the Shannon Tae kwon do Club, was part of the junior male power-breaking team that was one of only two countries to post a clear 100% round and eventually took silver following a tie-breaker with New Zealand.
The Irish sparring team, with Clare’s Stephen Ryan and Jamie Rigney, took home the last bronze. The team beat Bolivia, England and Slovenia before losing out to hosts and world champions, Argentina.
It was a rough start to the Irish team’s first training camp in Argentina when, on their arrival in Buenos Aires, fellow team-mate Hong Keat Looi was detained at passport control due to some misinformation about his visa requirements. Hong, who was born in Malaysia, found himself looking at deportation as the male team faced the possibility of losing a pivotal player, which could have resulted in ineligibility to compete.
Irish connections were called in, up to and including Minister Micheál Martin, to come to a safe resolution to the problem and thankfully, along with the help from Argentina master Marcelo-Eisn and Irish team manager Tim Leahy, Hong eventually secured a visitor’s visa after a nine-hour wait.
Following two days of recuperation and training, all the athletes weighed in with no difficulties and went to the stadium to acclimatise.
The first event was the individual patterns and strong Irish performances were rewarded with good results and with few exceptions. the Irish competitors progressed through the rounds with David Lynch, Hong Loi and Sabina Mason reaching the quarter-finals before Louise McCagh went one better beating Argentina, Canada and Belgium. She then took on the European Champion from Finland, picking up her first medal for Ireland and Clare.
Louise was quickly involved again in the junior female special technique event, where she took on old rival from the European Championships, Anna Dobrowska, the European number one, Louise being the European number two in this event. And following a tie-breaker Louise secured the silver medal.
Last Thursday afternoon, November 26, the Irish team patterns took to the stage losing out to Argentina in the first round on an unfortunate return for a solid performance. The girls, however, went one better losing to Poland in the semi-final but clinching a bronze medal. The senior male team carried the weight of expectation as European champions and secured a 5-0 win over Paraguay. Ireland progressed to a very assured win over the Germans in the next round. The team met old rivals Poland in the semi final but in the end, Poland edged it by the narrowest of margins on three to two judges. A disappointment to the Irish but a world medal consolation.
The competitions continued for the Clare contingent on Saturday morning where Louise was back in action in the under 55kg junior female sparring. The draw looked tough, however, she was very convincing and scored clear points to take a three to one decision. Louise progressed in this competition to the final where she faced another showdown with Anna Dobrowska. The Pole was in superb form, however, slippery and hard to pin down, she edged more of the exchanges and took a well earned, if narrow, win.
In the early afternoon Louise returned to the power-breaking competition. Emotions were still high after the sparring performance but Louise took a tally of eight points putting her in third place and secured her fifth medal of the tournament; the most individual medals won by an Irish competitor at this level.
On Sunday, the Irish team competed in the sparring and team power event, a competition where Ireland have had no tradition of success but the stage was set for a make or break encounter with Slovenia in the quarter-final. Having met Slovenia, European team champions, Ireland took the match three wins to two and advanced to face Argentina in the semi-final only to narrowly lose out.
While the semi final was taking place the junior male power-breaking team went on to clear every board in the place and leave them in a tie for gold with New Zealand, but unfortunately had to settle for silver.