Six-year-old Tom Burns had dreams of becoming a ninja.
Unfortunately for the aspiring athlete, there were no ninja training facilities in his hometown of Christchurch, so Burns settled on the next best thing… taekwondo.
“I started Taekwondo when I was six-years-old because I wanted to be a ninja, and that pushed me into the sport,” Burns said.
Now 19-years-old, Burns has been selected to represent New Zealand at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The Olympic Games have been a goal of mine for a very long time.
“My coach, when I was a junior athlete, was Robyn Chong who went to two Olympic Games herself; that was a real inspiration.”
Burns earned a quota spot after winning his weight division in Queensland, Australia, at the Oceania qualification tournament, late February.
“I didn’t think I would be making it to the Games so soon, to be honest 2024 was my Olympic goal.
“To make it to Tokyo is so exciting; words can’t even describe it.’
After graduating Cashmere High School in Christchurch, Burns moved to South Korea to further pursue taekwondo.
He gained a place at Narazne University in Cheonan where he’s the only Australasian student at the institute which is well known for fostering taekwondo talent.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people in New Zealand doing the sport to make up a competitive international team, so for the past year and a half I’ve been training in South Korea.
“The University itself is one of the best in the sport, so training there consists of four to five hours of taekwondo daily on top of study.”
Tokyo 2020 will be Burns first Olympic Games; however, over the past two years, he’s attended more than 15 international taekwondo events, including the World University Games and the 2019 World Championships.
Moving to South Korea has allowed Burns to train alongside the world’s best young taekwondo athletes.
“Training in Narazene has made a huge difference to my taekwondo skills.
“You don’t notice differences when you are working on your sport four hours a day but having my parents see me every six months and tell me it’s working is a real confidence booster.”
Burns will continue to train in South Korea as his Olympic preparation has now been extended by a year.
“I’ll continue to train and focus on my goals, so when the time comes, I’m ready.”