Ainsley Walters, Gleaner Writer
JAMAICA's combined martial arts team started its 2012 training schedule yesterday with a 5k run and immediately announced its ambitions for the new year - 50 unbeaten matches to commemorate Jamaica's 50th year of Independence.
Unbeaten in 44 matches since 2002, combined team captain Jason McKay said the unit wants to dedicate the landmark to Jamaica in its 50th year as an independent nation, the team's way of showing how the country has grown to become a martial arts superpower.
The team ended its 2011 season with victory in the Tri-Asian Championship, its 44th consecutive match without defeat, facing some of the top martial arts teams in the world.
Despite its lofty aims, especially with teenage faces emerging among its ranks to replace experienced veterans, McKay is confident the combined team will reach its mark.
"I believe the 50 matches would be a fitting tribute to celebrate our 50th year of Independence,"' he said. "I think it will set us further apart from any sporting team in the history of Jamaica. Our biggest problem at this stage is not achieving the mark but getting the sponsorship to reach it," he added.
One of the tournaments where Jamaica needs to excel to reach its mark will be the annual United States Open in Orlando, Florida, where the Gold Cup will be held this year.
The Gold Cup will be competed in a round-robin format with Jamaica possibly facing at least three of the world's top teams, two of which it has never beaten - Ethiopia and New Zealand, who are highly rated with the likes of Mark Trotter and world champion Carl van Roon.
McKay said the combined team is used to adversity and surprising its doubters.
"Few thought we would have reached where we are now. When the squad was started years ago, we were laughed at when we talked about going to Asia to fight the Japanese," he noted.
"To date, we have beaten The Philippines, Japan, China and Malaysia in combined-team fighting," McKay added.
However, McKay believes not enough has been done to honour the team's achievements.
"The combined team's efforts have largely gone unnoticed at the annual Sportsman and Woman Awards, apart from in 2006 after we defeated Japan, and being recognised by former sports minister, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange," he said.
The team, however, continues to rake in acclaim and praise from the international martial arts community, even more so after one of its members, Kenneth Edwards, became the first Jamaican to qualify to represent Jamaica in taekwondo at the Olympic Games, which will be held in London this year.