A Dr. Pepper and a steak might not be a special meal for some, but for 11-year-old Mark Thomas Kline, of Damascus, it was his first as a Junior Olympic gold medalist.
After not winning a gold medal for the last two years he’s competed, Mark, a first-degree black belt, brought home three gold medals in Taekwondo during the 2012 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics July 29-30 in Houston, Texas.
“He said, ‘Dad. I’m getting a gold medal this time,’” said Mark Kline, Mark’s father. “It’s nice to see his hard work pay off.”
Mark, a sixth-grade student at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, competed against about 20 athletes in his division to earn his first gold medal in the individual forms competition. He later followed it with gold medals for point sparring and Olympic sparring.
“Since I never won a gold medal, I was happy that I did win,” Mark said. “[After that] I wanted to win three medals … because it would make a big difference.”
As a member of the HiYa! Karate Martial Arts and Fitness Center in Mount Airy — a karate studio owned by his parents Suzie and Mark Kline — Mark contributed to 29 medals won by HiYa! students during the games.
“Each kid [on the team] got a medal…. That was the biggest accomplishment,” Mark Kline said. “We’re pretty proud, not just for our kids but for all the kids from the studio.”
More than 16,000 youth athletes competed in about 18 sports during the annual event in Texas, which coincided with the Olympic Games in London this summer.
The 20-member team, made up of students ranging in age from 8 to 15, began training in February for the two-day Taekwondo competition. They also helped to raise about $2,300 per student needed to participate. The cost includes entry fees and travel expenses.
In March the team also competed in the Maryland Taekwondo District Championship held this year in Waldorf to qualify for the games.
In addition to their medals, each of the junior Olympians received a plaque during a cookout on Aug. 4, where the studio celebrated their accomplishments.
“They’re amazing,” Suzie Kline said of the group’s performance.
Along with owning the studio, the Klines also act as senior instructors at the center.
“I was really proud [of Mark],” said Madeline Kline, Mark’s older sister. “I had the biggest smile on my face.”
Both Madeline, 14, and Mark’s older brother Mitchell, 12, competed as part of the studio team. Each has won a gold medal in past years at the games.
Madeline was able to bring home a gold medal in her division for individual sparring this year, even though a hip injury she is recovering from prevented her from competing in the sparring competitions.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I thought I might get silver or bronze…. It made me smile that I could win even with an injury.”
“It’s great to see your daughter kicking butt,” Mark Kline said.
Mitchell went up against about 15 athletes, some of whom were a year older than him, to win bronze medals in both point sparring and forms for his division.
“I feel good,” Mitchell said. “I feel like I trained hard and I worked as hard as I could at the Junior Olympics.... Most of the kids were bigger than me. I was nervous that some kids were better than me, but, then again, with my training I thought I was in good shape to compete against them.... Out of 15 people bronze is pretty good.”
What’s next for Mark? According to his mother, it’s competing in a future summer Olympic Games.
“[After competing] he said, ‘Mom, how hard is it to get to the real Olympics?’” Suzie Kline said.