TOP CLASS Swords taekwondo club Rivervalley put in a stunning performance at the World Junior Championships in Lido de Jesolo, Italy, recently.
The eleven junior athletes sent over as part of a 39 person Irish team were so spectacular that had they competed as a nation rather than a club they’d have finished sixth on the medal table, ahead of sizeable competitors like the USA, Argentina and Russia.
All in, the championships featured more than 1,000 competitors from 52 different countries.
The Irish team are coached by Stephen Cooley, a VI degree and former international fighter who started Rivervalley back in 1992.
He takes young fighters, often just six years old, with the philosophy of “treat them like world champions from the moment they walk in the door.
“Most coaches take talented kids at the age of 12 or 13”, Cooley told GazetteSport. “We start them off at six, and put them in a competitive atmosphere. The kids believe in themselves, and make a decision at the age of 12 or 13 on how seriously they’re going to take it. They can become ordinary black belts, or aim for the national team.”
All 11 Rivervalley athletes who went to Italy medalled, but perhaps the crowning glory was in the men’s 56kg individual sparring, in which club teammates Luke McGrath and Rostik Ivanchuk fought each other in the final.
Both came through a series of tough fights, with McGrath edging through in the finale. Cooley recalls his early days as “a very unassuming kid who at first didn’t really want to spar. He’s a natural, though, and it didn’t take him long to take things really seriously.”
Another individual success came for Killester’s Ellen Ince, who’s trained individually with Cooley for a couple of years. Ellen’s individual sparring title at 55kg weight was her second successive world title, wins that bracket a European win, too.
Maeve Magee also won a special technique silver, while Rivervalley’s team competitors scored a full set of gold, silver and bronze medals. In large part due to Rivervalley’s success, the Irish team grabbed sixth place overall.
All the medals won over in Italy come off the back of the club’s professional approach.
“We have a big team,” Cooley says. “You hear about other sports doing six weeks of conditioning before the training starts. We do a year of strength and conditioning.
“We study body movement and train on techniques like long jump and high jump, too. Some of our kids wear heart monitors and train eight days a week. They’ve earned the results, and they got them.”