Summerville’s Nik Poland returned from the West Coast as the newly crowned U.S. National Silver Medalist.
The 16-year-old Ray Smith’s Taekwondo student was among 5,000 competitors representing all 50 states during the U.S. National Taekwondo Championship held in San Jose, Calf. earlier this month. The event not only determines the sport’s best competitors, but is also part of the selection process for the U.S. national teams that represent the country in the international competitions.
On July 5, Poland competed in the Senior Adult (18-32) National Championship and won his first match 22-0. He lost in the second round to last year’s Silver Medalist but gained more experience in the division he will join when he is 18.
“I really like competition,” Poland said. “It’s always been fun, even more fun when you win.”
In addition to his normal training, Poland also joined other U.S. National Team athletes for two Peak Performance camps in St. Paul, Minn. to prepare for the national championship. The silver medal he earned in California keeps him on the U.S. National Team.
“The championship is really cool because you see beginner level up to Olympic athletes,” Poland said. “There were hundreds of kids in martial arts uniforms on the mats breaking square wooden boards, performing intricate choreographed movements and (sparring). Now that I have made a name for myself it is really fun to take pictures with kids and realize that you inspire them and they aspire to be like you. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
Poland has taken taekwondo for only five years but has already earned his third-degree black belt. He won five South Carolina State titles this year and two Georgia State titles, which helped him earn good seeding for his division at the national tournament.
Grandmaster Ray Smith says Poland is the most gifted and driven student he has ever trained. “Nothing about Nik is typical,” Smith said. “I congratulate him winning Silver at the 2014 U.S. National Taekwondo Championships. It is another step up on his ladder of success. He has proven again that he belongs to a group of Olympic level athletes. Make no mistake; he is a real Olympic hopeful. … He is already one of the best Junior athletes on the planet and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet of what Nik Poland can become.”
Now Poland turns his focus to the Costa Rica Open to be held Aug. 24-30. It will be his third trip out of the United State this year. He has already been to Bolivia, where he won a gold medal at the Goodwill Games, and Colombia, where he won a bronze medal.