The Minsk experience

Goulburn's Joshua Williams and Craig Harmer travelled to Minsk, Belarus recently for the Junior World Taekwon-do Championships. Joshua travelled as a competitor, while Craig looked to pass on some of his international experience to the young athletes as coach.

CRAIG HARMER took some time out to chronicle their journey:

WE began our journey with a small car ride to Canberra Airport. As we were checking in I asked Josh "are you nervous yet?"

He replied "Yeah, I've been nervous for the last two days."

I laughed knowingly.

First time overseas, first time at an international competition, as well as the large international flight ahead and the new culture he was about to experience.

After an hour flight we arrived in Melbourne and we were lucky one of the other Australian coaches picked us up and we were able to do a little training while we waited seven hours until our flight check in at 7.30pm.

When we arrived back at the Melbourne International Airport we checked in and noticed other members of the team and coaching staff already at the check in counter, this was a great opportunity to enjoy a meal together prior to taking off for Abu Dhabi.

We boarded at 9.45pm and took off at 10.30pm. The flight to Abu Dhabi was 15 hours long and I don't think Josh slept more than three of those. He was too busy watching the movies, listening to music and playing his PSP. I think that being six foot three, as well as being so excited and nervous, meant he was not able to relax.

As we flew into Abu Dhabi all we could see was sand, sand and more sand. I did notice that the flight deck was in the shape of a half crescent moon, that was a little unusual but quite pretty to see. As Abu Dhabi is a Muslim country and we arrived in the middle of the Holy month of Ramadan, no locals were eating or drinking (Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset during this time).

I had to explain to Joshua what was going on, and I am still unsure if he understood or not. At the Abu Dhabi airport there was a marquee set up like the old Arab caravans: big rugs, and large pillows for weary travellers to rest and sleep on.

Once we checked our Facebook pages at the free internet cafe, we waited two more hours until our flight to Minsk.

Our flight to Minsk was 6 hours long and unlike our previous flight this was a budget airbus with no in-flight entertainment.

Poor Josh was a little disgruntled about this, until a young female model sat next to him. His eyes bulged out of head like Wile E Coyote on a rocket. Joshua played it cool listening to his IPod and playing his PSP the entire trip while I slept.

Minsk Airport was exactly what I expected for a former Soviet Union country: overcast and raining, a big drab grey building with Russian signage on the terminal. After organising our visas we were on the bus with the rest of the Australian team headed for the city of Minsk, yet another 40 kilometres away.

Our hotel, the Yubilainy, was a little unusual with a bowling alley and a strip club in the building.

After most of us had been travelling between 23 to 30 hours a big rest was needed.

Unfortunately most of the members had calls in the middle of the night from a masseuse for a "special massage".

This was a bit of a laugh for everyone, but after the first night we all took our phones off the wall so as not to be disturbed.

After a good night's rest the team all headed down for breakfast. Salad, cold meats, meatballs, eggs, frankfurts as well as cereal, milk, juice and coffee was on offer. Unfortunately the same was dished up for lunch and dinner, so after the third day the team started to look for other alternatives.

After breakfast we organised our team training sessions for the next four days prior to the tournament. Two sessions a day were organised for the team with the last day a light stretch and movement session to recuperate.

Training began with warm ups and gently going through patterns as well as pad drills. As most of the team were still a little jet-lagged, a gentle session was needed to clean out the cobwebs and prevent injuries.

The remaining training sessions progressively got harder with more intensity with some of the competitors getting a little over excited with one junior sporting a black eye after a "light sparing session".

Overall the competitors were all well prepared and on the last day of training they had a light session to keep them fresh. Then we had a team building exercise of 10-pin bowling.

During this period of preparation the team was able to explore in between training sessions. Shopping was an experience for most as hardly anyone spoke English and only one of the team members spoke a little Russian. The Australian dollar was worth about 3000 Belarusian Rubbles and this caused issues within itself. All team members had to purchase water because the local water is not safe to drink, as the river is a lovely fluoro green.

Some members of the team ventured out to watch an ice hockey game. Hockey is huge in Minsk and is the Belarusian national sport. Other members just like to go to a coffee shop called Saquella to relax and have a nice espresso.

Saquella was a coffee shop by day and a nightclub at night, the ad on the table said it had "face control" and the dress code was very, very sexy. We all had another chuckle at this.

The morning of the championships everyone was quiet at breakfast. A combination of nerves, excitement and mental preparation had begun. The championships organising committee had allowed late entries and the draws had to be redone and everyone had to wait until about 10.45am to start competition.

Joshua was first up for patterns. Joshua performed his patterns at a high standard and must have been spurred on by the occasion. Unfortunately his best was not enough to beat his opponent who went on to claim a bronze medal.

Joshua, although disappointed that he did not get past the first round, was happy with his performance and was now ready to fight.

He faced a tough opponent in a Russian that was the same height but a little heavier. Josh started well landing a good side-kick and followed it up with a good punching combination. Half way through the Russian scored with a heavy back kick and punching combination that rocked Joshua and it took him until half way through the second round to get back in the fight.

However, the Russian had scored too many points for him to make up the difference and used good footwork to avoid Joshua's attacks. The Russian competitor eventually won the division and was crowned World champion.

Josh was disappointed in his performance but took confidence from the fact he was leading the fight and knows that if he was able to apply more pressure he could have been able to medal and even win the title.

The Australian team came home with 17 medals: seven gold, five silver and five bronze. This is a great result against countries that have full government funding such as North Korea and Russia.

A wealth of experience was taken away from all members of the team, as well as a little bit of Russian, and plenty of encouragement to perform better next time around.

Joshua now is planning to have his last National Junior Championships in December but also planning to be selected for the Senior World Championships to be held in North Korea in May 2011.

It will be hard for Joshua as he has now moved to Batemans Bay to work with his uncle as an apprentice Carpenter. Good luck Josh.


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