Taekwondo: Hard slog helps fulfil a long held dream

By David Leggat

Andrea Kilday gets a buzz out of the kicks she has mastered. Picture / Getty Images
Andrea Kilday gets a buzz out of the kicks she has mastered. Picture / Getty Images

A pile of athletes will be named to New Zealand's Rio Olympic team in the next four months, but few will match the feelgood factor of Andrea Kilday.

The 34-year-old has scrimped and saved to give herself the best possible chance to fulfil her Olympic taekwondo dream, and yesterday she was confirmed in the team to contest the under 49kg division. That's four sports, portions of triathlon, rowing and sailing, preceding her, to be announced for the Games.

Kilday qualified for the Beijing Games of 2008 but was not selected. She left the sport for a year, "heartbroken" at missing out.

"Then after that [year off] I decided to get back into it to see if I still enjoyed it," she said.

There are no big cheques, no five or six-figure sponsorship deals to enable Kilday to give herself top quality competition. She has a couple of small packets of assistance from friends or family. That's it. Her husband, Des Allen, has represented New Zealand; children Phoenix, 12, and Lucian, 5, are into taekwondo too.

This is a family who pursue their sport with a passion.

Kilday started taekwondo at 9, living in Christchurch. She moved to Auckland in 2005 after one of her four trips to world championships. Madrid opened her eyes to the possibilities, just as her first sighting of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 did.

"I knew that's what I wanted to go for. It's been a very, very long journey," she said. "I've trained very hard to get where I've got to. Just to know it's paid off and I've finally made it ... "

The words trail off, as if the emotion is still sinking in for the diminutive taekwondo player, who took up the sport, at her mother's suggestion, as a means of self defence.

"I got into one of the South Island tournaments and won that. I fell in love with it."

The thrill at the range of kicks she has mastered gives Kilday a buzz.

Kilday became the first New Zealander to win a Pacific Games title in Papua New Guinea last year; then placed herself in the hands of the New Zealand Olympic Committee selectors when she won the Oceania title, also in PNG last month. It had to be victory to put herself in the frame.

She has fought a handful of her rivals in Rio and has a glass half full philosophy. On any given day a taekwondo player "could have a good day, bad day, could be sick or injured, so everyone has a chance to medal".

Athlete development officer Tim Urquhart has high praise for Kilday's determination and spirit.

"They have basically worked their butts off. It's a huge slog," he said.

He talks of her "determined mindset to go to the Olympics come hell or high water".

There are tournaments in Korea and Bali in the pipeline plus the prospect of a training camp in Dubai with high quality players before Rio. Being in Rio will be a terrific experience, but it will have to be special to top the simple announcement that, finally, she had won the right to be called an Olympian.

- NZ Herald

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