Making History at the Olympics

Making History at the Olympics

Making History at the Olympics

By Kai Rambow

When Ana Zolotic won her gold medal match, she was so exuberant NBC showed her reaction to winning for several days.  It all started quite differently.

“We had to enter an after school activity, and my dad didn’t want us to start ballet or other girly stuff.”  My mother said, ‘It’s too rough for girls.’  My sister quit, and I almost quit because it was something we had done together.  It was how we bonded and took out our frustration with each other.”

Fortunately for Team USA, Anastasija (Ana) Zolotic didn’t quit.  At the Tokyo Olympics, she not only won gold in Taekwondo, but became the first American woman to do so.

Born in Largo, Zolotic started the sport at age five. At eight, she decided she wanted to go to the Olympics.  “The only reason I continued was because I had made a deal with my dad that I would try for the Junior Worlds.”  She won at Junior Worlds.

“People would say, ‘You’re an inspiration.  Thank you for being a role model.’  I didn’t have that growing up.  I was eight and people would say, ‘It’s a guy’s sport.’ I was 15 and they were the same age.  It didn’t make sense to me.  How are they looking up to me?  Let’s see if I can keep going with this.”

How are points scored?  It’s all electronic.  “Our socks have magnets in them, our chest pads and head guards have sensors.  Our gloves are the only things that don’t have sensors in them.  If you kick to the body and your sock makes contact with the chest pad that’s two points.  Punches are scored by judges. If you spin kick there are more points.”

The Olympics felt familiar to Zolotic.  “I went to the Youth Olympics and the Pan Am games. A very similar environment.  This time it was just me and my coach. The rec room was best. We played ping pong and argued intensely. I didn’t want to lose to my coach and he didn’t want to lose to his athlete.”

Zolotic spent most of her time preparing for the games. “I came to the games to win. If I lose, I usually go to the gym and work out even harder.”

A training day for Zolotic involves a practice at 7 a.m. for 90 minutes and a kicking session for two hours in the afternoon. In between she is studying, working on a degree. “I train most of the day. I love the gym. I prioritize: 10 minutes of fun and I miss two hours of training.”

Zolotic currently lives and trains in Colorado. She misses the beach and rain. Ana was a lovely athlete to interview. We thank her for generously sharing with us. Wherever her endeavors take her, we wish her the best.

IN THE TOP PHOTO:  Zolotic kicking out at her opponent.  She’s 5’11” and trains to adapt to whatever height her competition has. (Photos courtesy of USA Taekwondo)

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“Ready, Aim, Medal!”

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“Ready, Aim, Medal!”

By Kai Rambow

When Mary Tucker, from Sarasota, mentions her sport is shooting, she typically gets one of two reactions: “Oh, so you ski.” “Oh yeah, the ones where the things fly.”  “People think of shotgun [skeet] or biathlon,” Tucker explained.

Tucker, who won a silver medal in the new mixed team air rifle event, succeeded with her teammate Lucas Kozenisky.  The journey to a silver medal was not without challenges.

“I was 14 and picked a high school my mother didn’t want me to go to.  She said, ‘Fine, if you go there, you have to be on a sports team. I don’t know why. I guess she wanted me to be involved in something.’

“They had a night where you could see all the different teams.  The shooting team had a big banner with a rifle on it.  She tried to steer me away from that.  I said, ‘No, no.  We’re going to that one.’

“When I first started, I was very, very bad at it.  We had 20 people on the team and I was probably the worst.

“The high school coach knew I wasn’t very good and he made that known. I started becoming a little bit better and beating some of the other team members.  He said, ‘I don’t need you to be great. You need to settle for good.’ That did not sit well with me.

I ended up quitting the team.

Olympic medalist Mary Tucker. In air rifle, competitors stand and shoot for 30 minutes at 30 targets or longer. The rifle weighs about 12 pounds and is held as depicted here. Photo by Sarah Caputi │UK Athletics

“I was very fortunate to find my personal coach, Jaime.  She came up to a state qualifier.  She was supposed to be looking at the team I had just quit.  Our high school coach had asked her to come up and look at shooters on the team.  I ended up going and won.  Jaime asked, ‘What about that one?’  ‘No, no, no.  We don’t really talk to that one.’  Jaime replied, ‘but I like that one.’

“Jaime is very experienced.  She’s been to two Olympic games herself.  She saw me and said, ‘I see potential.  We’re going to make you the best.’”

In air rifle, competitors only shoot from one position – standing.  The target is about the size of a half dollar from 10 meters away (33 feet).  In individual competitions, shooters take 60 shots in 60 minutes in the qualification round.  Think about it.  Shooting accurately at a small target for one hour, all the time holding a 12 pound rifle.

Even in the mixed team event, it is individual.  “There were about 20 teams at the beginning.  Everybody shoots 30 shots in 30 minutes all at the same time.  Partners scores are then put together,” explained Tucker.

To become that good, Tucker spends many hours on the range shooting.  She also works out three times a week doing cardio, weights and other training.

While many athletes isolated from others due to Covid-19, Tucker did interact with others.  “Everybody is really open to talking with each other.  You’ll be walking around and people will walk up, ‘Hey, what sport are you?’  ‘What country are you from?’  ‘Do you have a pin?’  Pins were a big deal.  The whole atmosphere of the games is really cool.”

Tucker is studying kinesiology at the University of Kentucky and wants to go into coaching. She will continue to compete at the college level and has her sights set on the next Olympics. She graciously gave us some time the day before starting classes. We thank her and wish her all the best in her future endeavors.

IN THE TOP PHOTO: Mary Tucker and Lucas Kozenisky won silver in the mixed team air rifle event.  Unlike archery, all competitors shoot at the same time and their scores are combined when the time has expired.  (Photo courtesy of Mary Tucker).

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