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Army Wins Four Medals at U.S. Taekwondo Nationals

By Tom Hlavacek
Courtesy Army World Class Athlete Program

OAKLAND, Calif., May 14, 1997 – Army 1st Lt. Alisha Williams of Camp Humphreys, Korea, won a gold medal, while three teammates kicked for bronze medals to highlight the Army's finish at the 23rd U.S. National Taekwondo Championships. The tournament was held May 7-11 here.

Williams, a military intelligence officer, competed in the welterweight division, and won a 3-2 decision by taking a first round 2-0 lead and tying the second and third rounds winning 4-2. Following the decision, she was surrounded by her armed forces teammates shouting, "Respect! Respect!"

"This is my first time in the nationals, and I have only been in the sport for two years," said the 25-year-old New York City native. "My unit allowed me to train three days a week with coach Bobby Clayton. Without their support, I couldn't have won the gold."

Bantamweight Sgt. Bongseok Kim captured the Army's first medal in the tournament when he won a bronze. For the 25-year-old military interrogator stationed at Yongsan, Korea, it was his first medal after competing in six national championships. "This was a test for myself. This year I wanted to fight better or give up competing," said the Army sergeant with 20 years of taekwondo experience. "I was injured after my second bout, so I know that I can do better, and that will come in the U.S. World Team trials," June 13-14, in Phoenix, Ariz.

Like many soldier-athletes, Kim said he believes in the strong ties between the sport and the military. "Both the sport and the military share a respect for the rank structure, stress the mental and physical conditioning aspects, and adhere to the goal to persevere and overcome obstacles," said the Miami native.

Army middleweight Spc. Paul Nelson picked up his second bronze medal in only his second trip to the nationals. The 20-year-old World Class Athlete Program soldier lost in the semifinals (4-3) to national champ Peter Bardatu. Bardatu beat Nelson last year in the semis also.

"Bardatu did his homework prior to my match with him," Nelson said. "Last year, he won with a round house, this year with a cut kick. He watched me and knew how he could win."

Nelson's mother and father are both black belts. "My mother took me to classes when I was 9. My whole family are black belts." Nelson, a truck driver stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., said. "I would like to thank the WCAP [World Class Athlete Program] for the opportunity to compete in these nationals. Without the WCAP, I wouldn't be here today."

In the heavyweight division, 37-year-old Sgt. Michael Bennett had to settle for the bronze following a medical disqualification after injuring a calf muscle in the semifinals. This year, for the first time, the Fort Hood, Texas, soldier qualified for the All-Army championship and the nationals. He was also the oldest soldier on the team.

"This is the Army's best finish ever. Last year we won two medals, this year four," said Coach Clayton, a master sergeant at Yongsan, Korea. "My biggest surprise was the bronze medal by Sgt. Michael Bennett. He worked hard and deserves the medal."

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