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Lauren Burns punches her ticket to Hall of Fame


The fight that set Lauren Burns on her way to Olympic taekwondo glory at the Sydney 2000 Games cannot be played back on any video player for one simple reason, it did not broadcast live.

It was on this day 17 years ago Burns’ life changed forever when she won a truly unexpected gold medal at a home Olympics, making her a household name.

That victory will lead to her being the first athlete from taekwondo inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the 33rd Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 12th October 2017 at Palladium at Crown.

A scorecard and a few snaps from an anonymous fan in the crowd is the only proof that Burns has in her possession from her first victory that day, the start of a magical competition at the State Sports Centre.

Her first-round win against reigning two-time world champion Chi Shu-ju from Chinese Taipei was not part of the live broadcast, as the media’s attention was on Australian athletes tipped for a medal.

Later in the day media mobbed Burns’ parents Ronnie and Maggie prior to her victory over Urbia Melendez Rodriguez from Cuba, that confirmed just the third individual gold won by an Australian woman at the Sydney Games.

“When I got on the podium I felt quite humble and thought, oh my god this is going to actually be on TV because my day was not meant to be televised live,” Burns recalled.

“So I didn’t think any of it was going to air, because it wasn’t in the program. 

“Then all of a sudden there were just all these cameras on dad and because of his profile, they just mobbed him. 

“He said it was great, because suddenly it wasn’t like, oh you’re Ronnie Burns – it was like, oh you’re Lauren’s dad.”

Burns began her journey with martial arts as a young girl following her brother to class as he pursued his dream of becoming a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Expectedly, Michael did not achieve that goal, but the taekwondo classes planted a different dream for Lauren who enjoyed the combative nature of the sport.

“I had a pop star for a dad and dancer for a mother, then went to an alternative school that didn’t play any competitive sport, but I was always very physical,” Burns recalled.

“They dragged me along and I just enjoyed it, there weren’t any incredible lightning bolts of passion, it was just like, yeah I’ll come back next week.

“But I just loved it so much, and it was always about that striving for being a bit better and that sense of perfecting the basics and incredible repetition.

“I could train all day every day, I just loved it.”

Following her introduction to taekwondo by local coach Joon No, Burns was taught by head instructor Martin Hall and developed her skills while training at his academy.

As she progressed and started winning the first few of her twelve national titles Burns surrounded herself with a team of experts.

Burns also worked closely with Australian Olympic coach Jintae Jeong in the lead-up to Sydney who was another experienced voice she could count on along with Hall at the Games.

“In our relationship there were a lot of things we didn’t agree on but we were always really honest with each other,” Burns said of Jeong.

“It was mostly hand signals at that point, because we were just so in tune.”

In her pursuit of perfecting the art of taekwondo Burns regularly signed up for training camps in Korea, an experience that gave her a clear understanding of the sports origins.

“When I first went to Korea to train I was beaten with a bamboo stick,” she explained.

“So that was a shock and I realised they just beat them all the time in training. 

“The cultural awareness gave me a better understanding of who I was competing against, the Koreans have been so dominant.”

Burns had paid her way for most of her international career, including her first world championships in New York in 1993, which was initially going to be her last hoorah.

The funding Burns later received while part of the Olympic Athlete Program was a measly $42 a week, but she was thankful for the support given by the Victorian Institute of Sport.

It enabled her to study naturopathy part-time while preparing for the Sydney Games, a course that would come in handy when weight was a priority in the ring.

“At the Olympics I competed in under 49kg, so tiny, and for my bone density it was unsafe to be at that weight, so it wasn’t just like being a bit lighter,” Burns said.

“So normally it was under 51kg and that was still tricky but to have this nutritional knowledge and be able to seek out practitioners to help me.”

Since winning her gold medal Burns has had a successful career in public speaking and recently started a PhD at university while spending time with her husband Nathan and two children Mac Banjo and Piper Leigh.

“I am honoured to be inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame and to be in the company of such an esteemed group of people,” Burns said.

“Recognition of the hardwork, blood, sweat and tears which culminated in Olympic gold, is not only wonderful – but inherently tied to the gratitude I acknowledge for the treasured time leading up to the Sydney 2000 Games.

“It is also a time to celebrate the team of extraordinary human beings and support crew who helped me bring this dream to fruition, it was truly a team effort.

“When I won, people said this will change your life forever and I didn’t really know how it would, but it definitely has without a doubt.

“The actual medal, I take it to every appearence.”

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