STAR POWER—Giuliana Gil, 13, is building a reputation as one of the top taekwondo athletes in the nation for her age group. The Oxnard resident trains at Simi’s American Martial Arts Academy.
Giuliana Gil is polite and respectful.
When the 13-year-old steps on a mat to compete in taekwondo, she takes down her opponent with the ferocity of a charging rhinoceros and the agility of a mongoose.
“She completely stands out,” said Derrick Kwak, director of the American Martial Arts Academy in Simi Valley where Gil trains.
“She is a national-caliber competitor.”
Gil has traveled the world to compete in taekwondo.
She won a Junior Olympics national title in Austin, Texas, in July, giving her five straight Junior Olympic championships.
In August, she overwhelmed her opponents at the U.S. Junior National Team tryouts at Colorado Springs, Colo., winning all four matches without allowing a single point.
That performance raised the eyebrows of national coaches Juan Moreno and Jason Poos, Kwak said.
Gil will be the youngest U.S. national team member to attend the Pan Am Games in El Salvador this November.
After that, the Oxnard resident has her eyes set on a bigger destination: the 2012 summer Olympics at London.
Gil has been competing in taekwondo, a Korean martial art, since she was 7. The sport is her passion.
“Once I step on the mat, I feel like it’s my own little world,” Gil said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I feel so happy. I feel like there are two worlds.”
The daughter of Sylvie and Tom Gil, the young homeschooled athlete trains three times a day.
She works for about 1 ½ hours in the mornings at Gold’s Gym, next door to the academy.
During the day, she works with private sparring instructor James Kang, who also works at the American Martial Arts Academy. In the evenings, Gil trains with teammates at the academy.
Gil doesn’t feel she has overextended herself.
“Some people work out for eight or nine hours,” she said. “If I get tired, something keeps pushing me inside, and it’s helping me not give up.”
That’s the key with Gil. Her motivation and strength come from within.
Kwak said Gil is great for many reasons.
“In the sports world there are many factors you need to be successful. It’s more than just physical talent,” he said. “You need mental talent, and you need emotional talent. A lot of that has to do with family upbringing and the athlete’s temperament and if they are coachable and get along with other teammates.
“What I find remarkable about Giuliana is that, yes, she’s young, but it’s easy to develop arrogance—she’s extremely coachable. She’s simply a really likable kid. And that’s really rare. Giuliana has the work ethic and right temperament to have longevity in the sport of taekwondo,” Kwak said.
Of the 400 athletes who train at the academy, about 20, including Gil, are serious competitors.
From that group of 20, about five, including Gil, can compete on a national stage.
Gil said she would like to qualify for the next Olympics when she’s 16.
The athlete said a good next step to reaching that goal would be to win at the Pan Am Games. A strong showing at the 2010 World Junior Taekwondo Championship in Singapore would be a critical jump for her progression.
Gil’s brother Nicolas, 10, competes in judo. Gil enjoys traveling, meeting new people and the hard work required to excel in taekwondo.
“It takes a lot of hard work,” she said. “When my brother wanted to do it, I thought it was pretty cool and I tried it. I kept going on from that.”
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