Regional ‘Pan Am’ qualifiers set for next month

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President of the Trinidad and Tobago Taekwondo Association (TTTA) Anthony Ferguson gave the Express some insight into the taekwondo prospects vying for Olympic qualification with Lenn Hypolite, Edson Breedy and Melissa Joseph under the spotlight with roughly a month to go before the Pan Am Qualification Tournament in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Ferguson indicated that Hypolite and Breedy were selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago in the men's category, while US-born Trinidadian Melissa Joseph was also selected for the regional qualifiers, after her performance in the US Open Taekwondo Championships last Thursday. She has been active on the international stage in the past year, competing at the World Championships in Russia as well as last week's US Open in Nevada.

The three aformentioned taekwondo athletes were all in action at the US Open last week, with mixed results in the competition which has no bearing on qualification for the Olympic Games.

Joseph lost to China's Yuntao Wenren 3-4 in the round of 32, while Hypolite made it to the round of 16, losing out 11-12 to the USA's Connor Wilson, after beating Costa Rica's Luis Hernandez 11-6 in the previous round.

Breedy, who has stirred up a lot of public interest with his campaign to raise funds for qualifying, finished the highest of the three, reaching just one contact point away from a place in the semi-final round and at least a bronze medal. He bowed out after sudden death against Canada's Jordan Stewart at the quarter-final phase.

Going into the final qualifiers, Ferguson gave the Express some insight into the selected athlete's chances. “Lenn was ranked as high as number 14 in the world,” he said. “He picked up an injury early last year when he also had the challenge of school, so he wasn't training the way he was supposed to train an we had to depend on the reports coming from the school in New York where he was training.

“Fourteenth in the world wasn't easy; he would have continued to climb if he wasn't injured. If he is going to retain his standard, his chances would be pretty decent in the Pan Am region.”

Ferguson also put the imminent challenge in context for the athlete who has been competing for just over a decade and recently won silver at last year's Mexico Open in his weight class.

“He is fighting the toughest division in taekwondo which is the under-80kg, a division that has marquee names like Steven Lopez, who was multiple World and Olympic Champion, and Aaron Cook who is ranked number one right now,” he said. “So he has serious competition in that regard.”

Cook, who represents Moldova, has already qualified for the Games in Rio, and is currently second in the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) rankings. Lopez is currently tenth in the world, and was chosen two weeks ago to represent the US at the regionals in Mexico. T&T's Hypolite who was once 14th, is now 49th in the world rankings.

Ferguson also stated that the TTTA decided to select American-born Joseph after her commendable effort at the US Open last week, thus giving T&T a female representative at the qualifiers in the women's -49kg division. Ferguson was particuarly hopeful of Breedy's chances in the -87kg division however.

“Of all the athletes that we have right now, Edson is the most dedicated,” he said. “He has climbed the charts by sheer will; there is nobody who has come close in terms of doing what is necessary. He's a medical student and took time off... and he has spent his time just doing taekwondo and hosting fund raisers. He has gone out of his way to market himself. I think he has a good chance of making it through the qualifiers.”

The Pan Am Qualification tournament will commence in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on March 10-11, with the top two finishers in each weight class earning a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games.

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