No support from gov—but Aussie kickboxers smash expectations

Australia’s self-funded kickboxing national team has smashed expectations at the Junior World Championships in Italy.

Five out of 15 athletes have returned home with a medal having competed in front of more than five thousand fans.

Carlito (Dante) Rodrigues, the oldest athlete in the Australian team, won silver in the -81kg K1 cruiserweight U17s division, the blue-ribbon event of the tournament.

“All the other kids looked up to Dante,” said Astro Rodrigues, his father and one of the coaches of the Australian team.

Australia doesn’t have a national kickboxing program and therefore didn’t receive funding support from the Australian Government. Their trip was completely self-funded.

“The competition was very fast, intense, and for them [competitors from leading nations] it wasn’t a game,” Rodrigues told National Indigenous Times.

The Australian team arrived two weeks before the competition started in mid-September.

More than 250 athletes registered for the tournament, representing 90 countries.

The early arrival was to give the Australian kids a chance to acclimatise to the new time zone and conditions, as well get some last-minute fitness training.

Every morning leading up to the first fight, the coaches ran a fitness session designed to bond the athletes who came from all over Australia.

“By the fourth day, they were like brothers and sisters,” Rodrigues said.

The athletes rose at 5am, ran 4km up and down a hill, completed 200 push-ups, 200 jumping squats and 200 sit ups before breakfast. That was only the start of the day.

“We would work on tactics around lunch, followed by sparring in the afternoon. I had to do everything with the boys and I was wrecked. I had to keep a brave face for them, tell them it’s no problem, it’s easy. But inside I was hurting,” Rodrigues said.

The preparation was not uncalled for; Australia’s coaches likened the junior competition in Italy to the standard set by adult athletes back home.

Dante Rodrigues made his way to the final in the cruiserweight division, meeting a Russian Dimitrii Zimin in the final. He lost, but only narrowly, carrying the flag for Australia, after holding the Aboriginal flag at the opening ceremony.

The Australian team took pride in its multiculturalism.

“We had a kid from Afghanistan carry the Australian flag at the opening ceremony. He said it was the first moment he felt like an Australian. It was a proud moment for the team,” Rodrigues said.

Holly Saunders from Sydney came home with the biggest loot of the competition, claiming gold in both Kick Light and Light Contact 13-15-year-old divisions (U65kg).

Silver returned back to Australia in the hands of Arias Vang, also from Sydney, for a musical weapons display in the 33kg ten to 12-year-old division.

Sydney’s Tara Phillips, Electra Medcalf and Vang also have bronze medals in their trophy cabinets. The rest of the team placed in the top 16 or better and included: Tahlia O’Connell (Sydney), Rohulla Sawarji (Melbourne), Anthony Tomarchio (Melbourne), Cleoni Lellis (Sydney), Stella Lellis (Sydney), Phillip Monaghan (Coffs Harbour) and Hayden Briggenshaw (Coffs Harbour).

But it was Dante Rodrigues from Darwin who stood out for the Australians, showing his potential to claim an Opens World Title in the future.

You can watch the replay of the tournament here:

By Keiran Deck

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