FISTS OF FURY: Local teen takes gold at U.S. Open taekwondo championships at Las Vegas Convention Center
Call her the CEO of center ring.
Faith Dillon may be only 16 years old, but she fights with the calm authority of a seasoned boss.
Early in her first fight at the 2019 U.S. Open taekwondo championships, held Feb. 27-March 3 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Las Vegas fighting phenom is already landing head-kicks like it’s her job. She quickly punches ahead by five points, then 10, then 20. Her outmatched opponent doesn’t stand a chance.
Final score: 37-2.
Faith makes it look like a fierce walk in the park.
“She’s a pretty relaxed fighter,” says her father, Brendan Dillon, after recording the fight from the stands so they can watch it together later. By now, taekwondo has become as much a part of his life as his daughter’s. Faith began training at just 5 years old, after being inspired by a children’s television show.
“I was watching a Jackie Chan cartoon,” she said earlier in the week, “and I told my dad I wanted to be like Jackie Chan.”
Little Faith proved to be a tough, determined competitor, so much so that she became a national taekwondo champion at 9 years old. To foster her talent, for years Brendan drove his daughter to Redondo Beach, Calif., so she could train six days a month with coach Gergely Salim, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist. That stopped recently when elite coach Edward Givans, who owns a taekwondo studio in California, opened another in Nevada. Faith now trains with him at Givans Taekwondo Academy in North Las Vegas.
Over the years, Faith has racked up too many wins to list here. Her recent successes include representing the United States at the 2018 WTF World Junior Championships in Tunisia, taking bronze at the 2018 World Presidents Cup in Las Vegas, and gold at both the 2017 AAU National Championships in Florida and the 2017 Belgium Open.
“We’ve been all around the world multiple times,” Brendan said. “She’s an elite athlete. It’s been a blessing.”
Along the way, Faith has managed to maintain A and B grades at West Career & Technical Academy, where she studies nursing.
“Every day after school, I’ll work on homework for a few hours, then go to practice for a few hours. If I still have homework, I’ll do more” after practice.
Despite an already illustrious fighting career and her no-sweat demeanor, the USA Taekwondo National Junior Team fighter still entertains a few butterflies before a fight.
“Nerves come along with it every time,” she said. “I look at it as a positive, a privilege. Without nerves, I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Today her situation is competing in Las Vegas alongside more than 2,000 other athletes from around the world, some of whom you may see representing their countries in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Faith, fighting in a new weight class, would love to compete in 2024. But she doesn’t dwell on that.
“To get there I need to focus on smaller goals,” she said. “I’m trying to take it one step at a time.”
Make that one kick at a time. After decisively winning her first light middleweight fight as her tournament coach, 1988 Olympic gold medalist Arlene Limas, looks on, Faith flashes a smile, then strolls off in search of her proud dad.
She’ll go on to easily win her next four fights today and add yet another gold to her growing collection.
Later, Brendan sums up his daughter’s latest accomplishment with a succinct text message: Faith fought like a lion today.
From Las Vegas, with kicks
The U.S. Open taekwondo championships moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center from the Westgate this year as the competition grew and organizers sought a bit more space, says Jeanna Salgado, USA Taekwondo’s director of events. This year’s confab drew an estimated 6,500 attendees.
While next year’s U.S. Open location is still up in the air, organizers “definitely hope to return” to Las Vegas, Salgado said.
“We want to make Las Vegas home for the U.S. Open,” she said. “Our international guests really like the environment, and it’s a great city to work with.”
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