To represent your country successfully on the world stage is the dream of many talented athletes, as they aspire to excellence in their sport.

Thirteen taekwondo competitors from the Clayton-based United Schools of Martial Arts (USMA) recently competed for Australia against the best in the world at the 2016 International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Championships in Brighton, England.

According to one of the competitors, Anastasia Cariotis, “the level of competition was incredibly fierce, but I think Australia really made its mark on the world stage this time round − so fantastic!”

Cariotis’ father, Spiridon, is the founder of USMA and, together with Chris Galibert, was head coach of the 40 strong Australian team.

“I think he was proud of all his students,” Anastasia says of her father. “It’s his life’s work, taekwondo. It’s been since the early ’90s. I was one of his first students as a little four-year- old girl. Dad set up his first taekwondo school in an old Hall in Ashburton. I remember him training very hard and building up the school. The school is actually a very, very powerful school now. In Victorian taekwondo, it’s one of the best places to be. If you want to compete on the world stage, USMA Taekwondo is where it’s at really, because they’ve got a lot of very passionate people who are very good at what they do. The instructors are fantastic.”

The contingent of 13 USMA competitors in the Australian team collected 37 medals at the recent world championships and included individual gold medals for female sparring to Marcia Tsiros and Linda Wise, as well as a silver to Carysse Shean.

Anastasia Cariotis also won her first-ever medal for Australia, capturing bronze in the patterns category. “This campaign in particular, I set a goal for myself and that was to achieve a medal overseas. I’m really happy with the result.”

Staged just prior to the Olympic Games in Rio, the ITF World Championships differs from the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) form of taekwondo, which, since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, has become an Olympic sport.

As such the Australian ITF team at the world championships had to self-fund its participation in the tournament.

According to Cariotis “ITF competitors in Australia aren’t given financial assistance (from governments). They have to fund it on their own, and rely on call-outs for sponsorship, a lot of goodwill, friends and family, local businesses. Which is a very nice and community thing to do. But if you’re out on a world stage to represent your country, you would hope there’s some acknowledgement as well”.

“We hope that one day things will change because there’s so many people in Australia devoted to the martial arts and they’re funding themselves to give Australia a place on the world stage. So without these people who are so committed, Australia wouldn’t have a place, which is a shame, because it’s gone so well.”

As a competitor, Cariotis hopes that one day ITF taekwondo is given the opportunity to become an Olympic sport, “because it’s such an amazing martial art. It deserves a place in the Olympic Games as far as I’m concerned. I hope in my lifetime to see that.”

They may not have participated in the recent Olympics, but the USMA contingent of the Australian ITF team did get to visit the home of the Olympics on their recent trip to Europe. They took the opportunity to attend an ITF summer training camp held in the town of Litochoro at the base of Mt Olympus, run by eighth degree taekwondo master, Vasilis Alexandris of the Traditional Taekwondo centre of northern Greece.

Here they had the chance to observe first-hand some of the training techniques of Master Alexandris and his fellow instructors.

“He’s a very powerful force in ITF taekwondo in Greece,” Cariotis says. “USMA has a strong affiliation with these Greek taekwondo organisations, who are fantastic at what they do. It was an incredible experience training with them and their level is exceptional. They train hard. They’re very dedicated.”