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SMC Family Member to Compete in Youth Olympics

Family Member Jessie Bates demonstrates her Taekwondo skills. The 16-year old has been selected to represent the U.S. in Singapore at the Youth Olympics. The games will be held in August. (Photo by Jim Gordon)

Family Member Jessie Bates demonstrates her Taekwondo skills. The 16-year old has been selected to represent the U.S. in Singapore at the Youth Olympics. The games will be held in August. (Photo by Jim Gordon)

Pictured are Jessie Bates and her mother, Lt. Lynette Bates, Space Based Infrared Systems Wing. Jessie is one of three Americas who qualified to represent the U.S at the Youth Olympics in Taekwondo.  The games will be held in August in Singapore.(Photo by Jim Gordon)

Pictured are Jessie Bates and her mother, Lt. Lynette Bates, Space Based Infrared Systems Wing. Jessie is one of three Americas who qualified to represent the U.S at the Youth Olympics in Taekwondo. The games will be held in August in Singapore.(Photo by Jim Gordon)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The road to the Olympics is not an easy one. An athlete must first make the U.S. team and then go on to qualify, possibly facing several phases. Only three Taekwondo fighters from the United States qualified for the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore to be held this upcoming August.

Jessie Bates, who is only 16 years old and the daughter of Lt. Lynette Bates, Space Based Infrared Systems Wing, earned a coveted spot on the 2010 team after a hard-fought battle against formidable fighters from around the globe.

"I can't express the joy I feel in seeing my daughter achieve her goals in Taekwondo," said the lieutenant. "I am so very proud of her. It's so unreal to think that my baby is now under the supervision of U.S. Olympic trainers and coaches."

The road to get to this point hasn't been an easy one for this young athlete. Jessie started in Taekwondo when she was 5 years old when her mother was stationed in England. She began competing at 8 years old when the family was reassigned back to the United States, and has had to cope with many setbacks because of all of the military relocations over the years. It took her 5 years to earn her first-degree black belt. She currently holds a second degree black belt.

"My family has been a huge support," said Bates. "You can be strong, but if your mental game isn't there and you don't have people to push you, you're not 100 percent."

The close-knit family, who originally lived on a Native American reservation in New Mexico, all takes Taekwondo lessons and trains together. Jessie credits that strong background with helping her stay so determined and willing to take on new challenges.

In 2009, the 16 year old was one of only six to qualify at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado for a place on the U.S team, which was set to go to the qualifying rounds in Mexico in March 2010. To get ready, Bates worked side-by-side with Chee, her father and coach, at the Los Angeles AFB fitness center 5 to 6 hours a day, six days a week. At night, the two traveled to a Taekwondo studio for sparring training.

"My family has always been there for me," said Bates. "They support me 500 percent."

That support was evident during the matches in Mexico as Bates faced competitors from Jordan, Afghanistan, Ghana, and Iran with her family rooting her on from the sidelines. Olympic Taekwondo is a sport where two competitors gear up and score points by kicking to the chest area and also to the head, according to Bates' mother. Black belts compete in three 2-minute rounds with a 1-minute rest between each round.

"Although Jessie has never been knocked out, her opponents threw kicks with the conviction of knocking her out," said Bates' father. "Being in a sport where an athlete can be knocked out means Jessie will be training to use those head kicks more and also protect her head."

More than 300 athletes from 85 countries participated in the qualification tournament in Mexico. In Bates' division, athletes from Korea, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, the United States and Canada rounded out the six qualification spots.

Along with Bates, two other competitors, both from Chicago, Ill., won the U.S. spots and the right to compete in Singapore in August at the Youth Olympic Games. The games will host 3,590 athletes, including boys 16 to 18 years old and girls 15 to 17 years old, from an estimated 170 countries competing in 26 sports. These sports include street basketball, beach wrestling, and Taekwondo. Mixed gender teams will meet up in cycling, swimming, and track and field.

Bates hopes to make it to the summer Olympics in 20I2 in London and ultimately open a Taekwondo studio of her own. In the meantime, the Bates family continues to train together and support their daughter in the international- level competitions ahead.