J'cans raring to go at ISKA World Champs
Jamaica's martial artists are savouring the thought of home advantage at the International Sports Karate Association (ISKA) Amateur Members Association World Championships, which gets under way today at the Montego Bay Convention Centre with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m.
Though nearly four years old, memories from the fifth International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Cup, historically held at the same venue in October 2014, are fresh in the Jamaicans' minds after a rich haul of 46 medals - 17 gold, 14 silver and 15 bronze - 44 more than the island had ever won at any ITF world tournament.
The signature moment at the 2014 ITF World Cup was Jamaica's male adult black belts closing the event by winning gold in team sparring, beating Canada and two powerful Argentine sides.
Coach Claude Chin described the historic medal, Jamaica's first and only sparring gold at an ITF world tournament, as "the best moment ever for Jamaican martial arts".
For the next three days, the Jamaicans, 30, though fewer in number than the British contingent of more than 100 and the United States' 60 fighters, tripling and doubling the hosts, respectively, are hoping to put on their best-ever performance at the event, which has traditionally been staged in Europe.
Among the Jamaicans are five ISKA Amateur Members' Association world champions - Olympian Kenneth Edwards, Nicholas Dusard, Richard Stone, and dual title-holder Sheckema Cunningham and the man of the moment, Akino Lindsay, both of who won gold in Greece last year.
"We could never put out a team to rival Britain or the United States in numbers. We just don't have that many fighters for the many diverse divisions. However, the ones we are putting out there are medal contenders who have chances of winning. Therefore, we are looking to quality of medal, with some quantity as well," promoter Jason McKay told The Gleaner on the eve of the event.
Dusard, who won gold in Cyprus at that year's ISKA Amateur World Champs and led the Jamaican squad, which celebrated wildly in the big ring in 2014, said the team division should again send sparks flying.
"In 2014, it was one of those teams on which Kenneth and I were under immense pressure to win our bouts. With Lindsay and Stone having now grown into top fighters, I can relax and not worry about the pressure of moment," Dusard pointed out.
Lindsay, in particular, is looking for a big tournament after leaving July's United States Open, an ISKA tournament, with four gold medals.
Armed with ISKA Amateur Members' Association World Championship gold medals won in Portugal 2015 and Greece 2017, fighting -86 and -90 kilos, respectively, Lindsay is a heavy favourite to defend his continuous sparring title at home, in addition to joining his teammates and idols - Edwards, Dusard and Stone - in team sparring.
Meanwhile, Cunningham, who won double gold in Germany last year, is looking to close her more than two decades of martial arts by defending her titles this week.
"This is my last year, the last time you will see me at home. I am retiring after the 2018 ITF World Cup in Australia," said the 33-year-old, who, along with Subrina Richards, ranks as one of Jamaica's most decorated female martial artists ever.