This time last year, when 14-year-old Wellington resident Zachary Thompson was on the sideline cheering on his teammates, he did not foresee his own future success of being a 2017 national champion in taekwondo.
Thompson earned the gold, making him an ATU National Taekwondo Champion, in June. He then won gold to become an AAU National Taekwondo Champion in July, followed by a silver, earning him the National USAT Team B spot at the USAT World Class Cadet National Taekwondo Championships.
Thompson began studying taekwondo in the third grade and is now a second-degree black belt, studying with Grandmaster J.S. Han at US Pro Taekwondo in Jupiter. Although Thompson trained consistently and moved through belt promotions with ease, the competitive Olympic sparring tournaments left him falling short of a medal. When he turned 12, it became increasingly difficult to be competitive. At his age and weight, he was often paired with the more experienced 14-year-olds.
Han recognized these challenges and recommended that Thompson step away from tournaments. However, he encouraged Thompson to continue to train with the competition team. When many kids would become discouraged, Thompson continued not only to train, but he supported his teammates as well, including his younger brother.
Thompson’s first attempt to reenter the tournament scene was in January at the Taekwondo US Open in Las Vegas. He won each of his matches until he met a strong competitor in the gold medal match. He came home with the silver but learned lessons on what changes needed to be made to be successful at the nationals.
His hard work paid off when Thompson earned gold in June, earning him a team ATU spot with paid travel to Canada for the Canada Open in October. He also competed at the Daedo International Tournament, earning him a team spot with paid travel to Costa Rica for the Costa Rica Open in September.
In July, Thompson competed in the USAT World Class Cadet National Championships in Detroit. It was there that his winning streak continued, all the way up to the finals, where he fell short of the gold and earned silver and the National USAT Team B spot. After that match, Thompson was more motivated than ever to gain the AAU national title at the final national tournament of the season.
He not only earned the gold, he point-gapped every opponent who faced him. A point gap is when the match is stopped early due to a wide spread of points between the competitors. Becoming the AAU national champion gives Thompson the opportunity to compete for an AAU National Team spot in September.